Museum of Ancient Inventions: Sarculum

Sarculum, Roman, 250 BCE

The ancient swan necked Roman Hoe or Sarculum was used throughout the Roman Empire. The word sarculum comes from the word for sowing or hoeing. They were two types; the smaller lighter hoe and the heavier or larger sarculum. The swan necked hoe that I used as a model comes from a picture of a bas-relief from Hadrian’s time in Rome in the 1st century CE. This hoe is still commonly used in many European countries including Greece, Spain, France and Italy.

The hoe is the earliest distinctly agricultural implement. First the digging stick was used, then deer antlers, a bronze hoe was discovered from 2000 BCE in the Caucasus. Exact information of the precise shape and size of the sarculum hoe is lacking because the tool was so common there was no need to describe it in literary sources. Pliny, writing in the 1st century CE, tells us that the larger sized sarculum was used in hilly or especially rocky country for breaking or turning over the soil in place of early plows which did not work in those regions. It was also used after the plows had been through to break up the clumps of dirt left behind by the plows.The lighter type or smaller sarculum had a variety of uses. In grain cultivation frequent hoeing during the growing season is necessary to keep the weeds down, aerate the soil and separate plants.

Method of Construction

by Judith Roberts ‘AC

I wanted to make something that I could use in my garden at home. I started with a piece of old truck spring steel. Foundry work has not changed much since antiquity; basically you heat the metal until it is red-hot then pound on it with a hammer to shape it.

The ancients used a coal fire and bellows to keep the fire hot. I used an acetylene torch to heat the steel, and then I hammered it into shape on an anvil. I also used a chisel and the torch to cut the steel. I used a metal grinder and brush to finish the steel. I made the wooden handle from a hickory log. I turned a quarter length of the log on the lathe and used a chisel blade to cut it into a small enough diameter to become a handle. I sanded the wood to smooth it out. I narrowed the wooden handle to a point at one end and fit it into the sleeve in the steel. I then made a hole in the top of the steel on the drill press. I used a steel pin to hold the hoe securely into the handle.

Sources

Daumas, Maurice ed. A History of Technology and Invention Volume l: The Origins of Technological Civilization. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1969.

Petrie, Flinders Sir W. M. Tools And Weapons. England: Aris & Phillips LTD, 1974.

White, K. D. Agricultural Implements of the Roman World. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.


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