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Bill Thayer

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p538 Fistuca

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on p538 of

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

FISTUCA, an instrument used for ramming down pavements and threshing floors, and the foundations of buildings (Cato, R. R. 18, 28; Plin. H. N. XXXVI.25. s61; Vitruv. III.3 s4 § 1, X.3 s2 § 3); and also for driving piles (Caes. B. G. IV.17). When used for the former purpose, that of making earth solid, it was no doubt a mere log of wood (shod perhaps with iron), with handles to lift it up; just like a paviour's rammer. But in the case cited from Caesar, where it was used for driving the piles of his bridge over the Rhine, it is almost evident that it must have been a machine, something like our pile-driving engine or monkey), by which a heavy log of wood, shod with iron, was lifted up to a considerable height and then let fall on the head of the pile.

Thayer's Notes:

a Caesar's bridge over the Rhine, one of the great engineering feats of Antiquity: the Rhine is wide, the current is fast, and Caesar built the bridge in very little time under field conditions. The piles of the bridge — driven by our festuca — have been found: see this page for actual photographs of them, and of the branding irons used to mark the construction wood.

b pile-driving engine: See this Portuguese page or its English translation for a pile-driving machine. The particular model shown is a Renaissance refinement, but it is very similar to what was available in Antiquity.

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Page updated: 4 Sep 13