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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A crude woodcut of a man in a short tunic and leggings, holding a two-tined rake. Near him are also represented a curved pruning-knife and a spade. It serves as an illustration of the Greco-Roman spade in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.]

p848 Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp848‑849 of

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

PALA (πτύον, σκαπάνη, σκαφίον, μακέλλα), a spade (Cato de Re Rust. 10; Plin. H. N. XVII.17 s27, XVII.22 s35). The spade was but little used in ancient husbandry, the ground having been broken and turned over by the plough, and also by the use of large hoes and rakes. [Ligo; Rastrum.] But in some cases a broad cutting edge was necessary for this purpose, as, for example, when the ground was full of the roots of rushes or other plants (Plin. H. N. XVIII.8). Also in gardening it was an indispensable instrument, and it was then made on the same principle as the ok (Colum. X.45). The annexed woodcut, taken from a funeral monument at Rome (Fabretti, Inscrip. Ant. p574), exhibits a deceased countryman with his falx and bidens, and also with a pala, modified by the addition of a strong cross-bar, by the use of which he was enabled to drive it nearly twice as deep into the ground as he could have done without it. In this form the instrument was called bipalium, being employed in trenching (pastinatio), or, when the ground was full of roots to a considerable depth, in loosening them, turning them over, and extirpating them, so as to prepare the soil for planting vines and other trees. By means of this implement, which is still used in Italy and called vanga, the ground was dug to the depth of two spades or nearly two feet (Plin. H. N. XVIII.26 s62; Cat. de Re Rust. 6, 45, 151; Varr. de Re Rust. I.37; Col. de Re Rust. V.6 p214, XI.3 p450, ed. Bip.).

Cato (Ibid. 11) mentions wooden spades (palas ligneas) among the implements necessary to the husbandman. One principal application of them was in winnowing. The winnowing-shovel, also called in Latin ventilabrum, is still generally used in Greece, and the mode of employing it is exhibited by Stuart in his "Antiquities of Athens." The cornº which has been threshed lies in a heap upon the floor, and the labourer throws it to a distance with the shovel, whilst the wind, blowing strongly across the direction in which it is thrown, drives the chaff and refuse to one side (Theocrit. VII.156; Matt. iii.12; Luke, iii.17). The fruit of leguminous plants was purified and adapted to be used for food in the same manner (Hom. Il. V.499‑502, XIII.588‑592).

The term pala was applied anciently, as it is in modern Italian, to the blade or broad part of an oar. [Remus.] In a ring the broad part, which held the gem, was called by the name of pala. [Annulus.]

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Page updated: 2 Dec 09