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Bill Thayer

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T. II, Vol. 1

Article by E. Saglio in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

DIGITALE, DIGITABULUM (Δακτυλήθρα) — I. A finger stall, a thimble. — One is hard put to find in classical Latin a word that means "thimble"; yet the existence of the thimble among the ancients is not in doubt since several objects of this type are extant, having been found with other Roman antiquities in ruins and tombs.

Digitale, in Varro,​1 designates a wooden​a instrument with finger-like prongs used for picking olives. Δακτυλήθρα is used elsewhere as a synonym for χειρῖδες or manicae to mean gloves, which were used in certain rare cases [manicae]. One might therefore doubt that the thimble was meant by these terms, were it not that they are found used in low Latin​2 with this exact meaning: at which point the use of the word may plausibly be referred back to the period of the objects in our collections.

[image ALT: A woodcut of two thimbles. The one on the right is of the modern type, a truncated cone; the one on the left is squatter, closer to hemispherical, and ends in a nipple. Both have several rows of pinholes. They are examples of ancient Roman thimbles, discussed in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 2407.

Fig. 2408.

Bronze thimbles.

Those shown here are of bronze and were found at Vieil-Evreux (fig. 2407)​3 and at the Châtelet (fig. 2408).​4 Others may be seen, either of bronze or of bone or ivory, in the museums of Lyons, Narbonne, Nîmes, Arles, Rouen, as well as those of Naples and Florence, etc.

II. An instrument of torture.5

The Author's Notes:

1 R. R. 1.55.

2 Gloss. lat. gr. ap. Forcellini, s.v.; Gloss. lat. gall. ap. Du Cange, Gloss. med. et inf. latin. s.v.: "digitabulum, deel. à mettre ou doy pour queudre"; J. de Janna: "digitabulum instrumentum in quo digitus intromittitur, et digitale dicitur."

3 Bonnin, Antiq. des Eburoviques.

4 Grivaud de la Vincelle, Arts et métiers des anciens, pl. XVI.

5 Synes. Ep. 58; Gloss. gr. lat. Laon MS., in the Notices des Ms. de la Biblioth. nationale, t. XXIX, p71.

Thayer's Note:

a That such claws were of wood is an inference unwarranted by the literary source. It seems more likely to me that such tools, used every year, repetitively and for rather heavy duty, would have been of metal: accounting for Varro's statement that they damaged the trees.

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Page updated: 8 Oct 19