Obscure Object of Desire: Ancient Roman “Swiss Army” Knife


This Roman multi-tool predates the modern Swiss Army knife by more than 1800 years.

While we are all familiar with the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife and its many knock-offs, what is likely the first surviving example went on display recently at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. Made from silver and dating to between 200-300AD, it was a custom-made tool probably belonging to a wealthy traveler . . .

From the UK Daily Mail:

“It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick.
 Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails.
It is thought the spatula would have offered a means of poking cooking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles.”


Unfortunately, there’s no corkscrew and, like most blades, it can land you in seriously hot water if you’re caught carrying it in public in the hoplophobic UK.


  1. Aharon says:

    Fascinating. The ancients probably had a number of ingenious devices we will never know about.

    1. janitor says:

      what really struck me is how little some medical instruments have changed. i saw some at the Acropolis (i know greek, but same difference right?) that looked identical to probes and what not ive seen.

  2. Jason Lynch says:

    No reason offhand you couldn’t carry this here in the UK; no blade over three inches and no locking mechanism, so no problem. TBH my Swiss Army Hunter is nominally illegal (blade’s about 3.2″ and locks) but it’s never been a problem.

    1. “Point” taken. I was meaning it more tongue-in-cheek. I have spent too many hours browsing content on http://knifecrime.blogspot.com/, and other UK anti-knife sites. Apologies if I have become a bit jaded and my weak attempt at humor fell flat.

      In fairness to you, I should be more precise in my descriptions of UK knife laws. And there are obviously no shortage of hoplophobes in the US as well.

      In fairness to me, people in the UK who want to ban kitchen knives are taken seriously rather than ridiculed. And there are folks who want to mandate the use of these: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2009/06/first-anti-stab-knife-prevents-deadly-kitchen-accidents/

      Thank you for reading.

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Obscure Object of Desire: Ancient Roman “Swiss Army” Knife

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