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p357 Contus

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p357 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CONTUS (κοντός, from κεντέω, I prick or pierce), was, as Nonius (XVIII.24) expresses it, a long and strong wooden pole or stake, with a pointed iron at the one end (Virg. Aen. V.208). It was used for various purposes, but chiefly as a punt-pole by sailors, who, in shallow water, thrust it into the ground, and thus pushed on the boat (Hom. Od. IX.287; Virg. l.c. and VI.302). It also served as a means to sound the depth of the water (Festus, s.v. Perconctatio, p214, ed. Müller; Donat. ad Terent. Hec. I.2.2). At a later period, when the Romans became acquainted with the huge lances or pikes of some of the northern barbarians, the word contus was applied to that kind of weapon (Virg. Aen. IX.510; Tacit. Hist. I.44, III.27; Lamprid. Commod. 13); and the long pikes peculiar to the Sarmatians were always designated by this name (Tacit. Hist. I.79, Annal. VI.35; Stat. Achil. II.416; Valer. Flac. VI.162, and others).


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