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 p1014  Securis

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p1014 of

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

SECU′RIS, dim. SECURICULA (ἀξίνη, πελέκυς), an axe or hatchet. The axe was either made with a single edge, or with a blade or head on each side of the haft, the latter kind being denominated bipennis (πελέκυς διστόμος, or ἀμφιστόμος, Agathias, Hist. II.5 pp73, 74).​a As the axe was not only an instrument of constant use in the hands of the carpenter and the husbandman, but was moreover one of the earliest weapons of attack (Hom. Il. XV.711) a constituent portion of the Roman fasces, and a part of the apparatus when animals were slain in sacrifice, (Suet. Galba, 18)º we find it continually recurring under a great variety of forms upon coins, gems, and bas-reliefs. In the woodcut to the article Sceptrum, the young Ascanius holds a battle-axe in his hand. Also real axe-heads, both of stone and metal, are to be seen in many collections of antiquities. Besides being made of bronze and iron, and more rarely of silver (Virg. Aen. VI.307; Wilkinson, Man. and Cust. of Egypt. vol. I. p324), axe-heads have from the earliest times and among all nations been made of stone. They are of found in sepulchral tumuli, and are arranged in our museums together with chisels, both of stone and of bronze, under the name of celts [Dolabra].

The prevalent use of the axe on the field of battle was generally characteristic of the Asiatic nations (Curt. III.4),​b whose troops are therefore called securigerae catervae (Val. Flacc. Argon. V.138). As usual, we find the Asiatic custom propagating itself over the north of Europe. The bipennis and the spear were the chief weapons of the Franks (Agathias, l.c.).

[image ALT: A bronze axe head in the Museo di Palazzo Trinci of Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

securis bipennis: one of many bronze axe heads in the Museo di Palazzo Trinci of Foligno, Umbria. For scale, see the photo of the entire case.

Thayer's Notes:

a Securis and dolabra are compared and etymologized, Roman-fashion, by Isidore (Orig. XIX.19.11), where he equates the securis and the bipennis, stating that one part of the securis is sharp, the other suited for digging — as in the axe-head seen in my photo on this page.

b I find no secures mentioned in Book 4 of Quintus Curtius; but they appear elsewhere in the Histories of Alexander: 8.14, 9.1, 9.2, and also in Book 10, although this last is of little authority since the word appears in text supplied by modern editors from other sources.

The Bactrians are said by Herodotus (VII.64) to have carried axes as battlefield weapons: πρὸς δὲ καὶ ἀξίνας σαγάρις εἶχον, where σαγάρις is probably a cognate of securis: see my note ad loc.

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Page updated: 28 May 20