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p545 Forma

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p545 of

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


[image ALT: An engraving of a rectangular slab of stone with a tree-shaped channel; at the end of each 'branch' the die of a coin. It is an ancient Roman coin mold.]
FORMA, dim. FORMULA, second dim. FORMELLA (τύπος), a pattern, a mould; any contrivance adapted to convey its own shape to some plastic or flexible material, including moulds for making pottery, pastry, cheese, bricks, and coins. The moulds for coins were made of a kind of stone, which was indestructible by heat (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.49).a The mode of pouring into them the melted metal for casting the coins will be best understood from the annexed woodcut, which represents one side of a mould, engraved by Seroux d'Agincourt.

Moulds were also employed in making walls of the kind, now called pisé, which were built in Africa, in Spain, and about Tarentum (Varro, De Re Rust. I.14; Pallad. I.34; parietes formacei, Plin. H. N. XXXV.48).º The shoemaker's last was also called forma (Hor. Sat. II.3.106) and tentipellium (Festus, s.v.), in Greek καλόπους (Plato, Conviv. p404, ed. Bekker).

The spouts and channels of aqueducts are called formae,b perhaps from their resemblance to some of the moulds included in the above enumeration (Frontin. De Aquaeduct. 75, 126).


Thayer's Notes:

a i.e., a type of stone that fire does not affect, at least at the temperatures required for melting coin metals. Pliny is almost certainly adapting a slightly more informative passage in Vitruvius (II.7.3), writing several decades before him. The two places mentioned in both authors, Tarquinia and Statonia (site unknown but probably near L. Mezzano), are in fact not that far apart, about 70 km by road, and share a similar basic geology, being on the seaward slopes of the volcano that created Lake Bolsena and this heat-impervious stone, which the Loeb editor of Pliny footnotes as being "Hard white calcareous tufa".

b And, by metonymy, the aqueducts themselves. In Rome, in the Middle Ages, forma became the standard word for an aqueduct, as is attested by the names of several churches built in the midst of the ruined aqueducts: see for example S. Tommaso in Formis.


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Page updated: 14 Oct 08