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William Thayer

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A monte

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LacusCurtius Educational Resource: a Selection of Articles from

19th-Century Classical Encyclopaedia

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

This single volume, of 1294 pages in rather fine print set in two columns and amounting to well over a million words, is a treasure trove of information on the ancient world, and was for many years a standard reference work, carried thru several British and American editions from the first in 1842 to the last in 1890‑91 with relatively few alterations. It shares one of its selling points with the Web: many illustrations. They are woodcuts, but often rather good ones, and sometimes clearer than photographs could be.

Like any encyclopedia of course, Smith's Dictionary should be used with caution: it is a secondary source, the field covered is very extensive, many authors are involved, and even when it was published could not for each article have represented the latest work. Also, the authors were classicists rather than technical experts in architecture and engineering, so that articles on these subjects are sometimes sorely deficient (for example, the article on bridges). Thus it was never absolutely first-rate, and I need not add that for scholarly work, especially where 150 years of archaeological investigation have by now intervened, it is superseded. Furthermore, the gentle reader is reminded that our authors were chiefly Englishmen, so the work tends to focus a bit more on matters important to the study of Roman Britain.

Finally, these articles need to be read not only with a grain of salt, but sometimes lightly and with a few grains of common sense as well. For example, in describing the objects or activities of daily life, the authors will tell us that ancient doors were wide enough for people to walk thru and that their thresholds and lintels were meant to support weight, and so forth; some things don't change much, and the younger student especially will need to look at things simply and naturally, just as she does with the world around us in our own day.

But as an educational text, in view of the paucity of solid material (and the relatively large amount of nonsense) on the Web, almost all of what Dr. Smith and his collaborators have to say remains valuable: I eventually expect to put all the Roman articles online, mostly as background material for other webpages. With exceptions, I do not intend to put any of the Greek material online.

I've modernized and simplified some of the punctuation, but have otherwise transcribed the text faithfully, and included the woodcuts. At the same time, I've tried to link the references to Latin texts or other sites on the Web, as appropriate; and have sometimes further illustrated the text with my own photographs. For citation purposes, the pagination of the original is indicated in the sourcecode as local links.

In the best medieval manner, I occasionally comment the text in a footnote, or when I manage to express myself succinctly, as Javascript annotations that you can read by placing your cursor over the little bullets,º or sometimes over the images.

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About those bullets:
  • Blue: relax. Blue bullets stay on the page (notes, unit conversions, etc.).

  • Green: go. Green bullets go somewhere, in another window.

  • Red: stop and think! Red bullets open another page in the same window. If you don't want to lose your page and have to reload it later, you should do a "New Window with this Link".

The 1875 text of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities is in the public domain, of course. My own photographs though, and technically my own notes as well as any reworked woodcuts (as when I've color-coded them or turned them into gifmaps), are not in the public domain. If you have doubts as to copyright, just ask.

Articoli trascritti sul mio sito
(gli articoli più importanti sono in neretto; quelli in corsivo non son stati ancora tradotti in italiano)

A reminder also that in 2006, new articles are constantly being added,
sometimes several dozen a month: the What's New Page is here.
General Topic Areas Entries
Agriculture crops

Olea (olive)


Aratrum Capistrum Culter (various kinds of knives, part of a plow, etc.) • Jugum (yoke) • Ligo (type of hatchet) • Pala (spade) • Raster (hoe or rake) • Stilus Vannus (winnowing fan)

land & property

Ager Fundus
See also the law of land and property (on the Law index page).

Architecture public buildings

Later (brick) • Tegula (tile)


Arcus Triumphalis (triumphal arch)

the Roman house

Apotheca Cella Focus (hearth, brazier) • Pergula Triclinium (dining room)

wall painting

Abacus (panel)

Daily Life spectacles, circus games, etc.

Amphitheatrum Bestiarii Circus Desultor Funambulus (tightrope walker) • Gladiatores Naumachia Saltatio (dance) • Venatio (animal slaughters)

clothing, cosmetics and shoes:

Several dozen articles are now listed on
their own separate index page.

Abacus (sideboard) - (tray) Arca Armarium Candela Candelabrum Capsa Carchesium Cathedra Follis (bellows) • Incitega (amphora stand) • Lectus (bed, couch) • Lucerna (lamp) • Mantele/Mappa (napkin) • Mensa (table) • Sella (chair) • Tapes (carpets) • Torus Velum

games & pastimes

Abacus (gameboard) • Ceroma Cestus (boxing gloves with a kick) • Follis (ball) • Fritillus (bossolo per dadi) • Pancratium Pila (ball; includes Harpastum) • Pugilatus (boxing) • Tesserae (dice)

hotels, restaurants, etc.

Fescennina Hydraula (hydraulic organ) • Lituus Sambuca (harp) • Testudo Tympanum (tambourine and similar instruments)

social customs


For marriage, weddings, and related questions,
see the index of law articles
the theatre
time & calendar
weights & measures
Engineering roads & bridges
tools & machinery

Machinae Cochlea (screw press, pump, revolving door) • Dolabra (chisel) • Fistuca Securis (axe)


Antlia Aquaeductus Aquarii Cloaca (sewer) • Emissarium Fistula (pipe) • Forma Hydraula (hydraulic organ) • Librator Pharos (lighthouse) • Piscina Tympanum

Implements timepieces

Horologium (meridiane, clessidre)

strumenti e materiali da scrivere

Atramentum (inchiostro) • Calamus (reed pen) • Liber (libro) • Stilus Tabulae (tavolette)

strumenti di tortura

Ascia (adze) • Asilla Abacus Calculi Cortina Ferculum Flabellum Forma (mold, cobbler's last) • Fusus (mold, spindle) • Incus (anvil) • Malleus (martello)

Oltre 130 articoli, a fair number of them long and detailed,
are now listed on their own separate index page.
Medicina Medicus (the doctor or practitioner) • Chirurgia
Vita politica cast of characters

Delator e Quadruplatores (paid informers)

relazioni pubbliche

Vectigalia Aes Equestre (include Aes HordeariumAes Militare) • Aes Uxorium Alimentarii Pueri et Puellae Annona Aurum Coronarium Centesima (IVA) • Congiarium (welfare payments) • Decumae (land rental fee) • Manceps Portorium (customs duties) • Publicani Quadragesima (excise tax on imports) • Quinquagesima (on the sale of slaves) • Scriptura (on grazing) • Tributum Vicesima

Parecchie decine di articoli, fra cui alcuni assai lunghi e dettagliati,
sono ormai schedate sulla propria pagina-indice a parte
(tempî, sacerdoti, rituale, feste, divinazione, magia ecc.).

Libertus (affrancati) • Patricii Plebs

Si veda anche l'indice degli articoli sul diritto.

Commercio banking
Industria alimentare
Trasporti land vehicles
sistema postale
Guerra esercito e allenamento

Exercitus (the main article on the Roman Army: 25,000 words)

   Ala Alauda Fustuarium Palus Tessera (password) • Tiro (recruits) • Volones (slave volunteers)

camps & forts

Acropolis Agger (embankment) • Arx Cataracta (portcullis) • Porta (gate) • Vallum (palisade)


Ephippium (saddle) • Signa Militaria (military standards) • Testudo

marina, navi & battelli

Navis (la nave greca e romana)

Acroterium Camara Contus Corvus (the famous boarding device) • Corbitae Cymba Harpago Insigne (figurehead) • Naumachia Phaselus Praefectus Classis Remulcum Rudens Velum

macchine di assedio, ecc.

Agger Aries Exostra Helepolis Musculus Sambuca (scaling device) • Tormentum (balistae, catapults, and similar machines) • Vinea


For an excellent contemporary summary of incentives and punishments in the Roman army during the republic, first of all see Polybius.

Aurum Coronarium Corona (wreaths and crowns) • Ovatio Praeda Spolia Stipendium Triumphus

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