It’s easy to be drawn to eye-catching jewellery or boldly painted ceramics from Ancient Greece and Rome, yet there is something especially interesting about items which were used every day, by ordinary people, which helps us connect with the Ancient World. In both Ancient Greece and Rome, bronze was employed in the creation of a huge range of items, from famous works of sculpture, to small statuettes and household tools, many of which resemble items that can still be found in modern homes today.
Wine-drinking formed a major part of the social lives of the Greeks and Romans, such as the famed Greek symposia, with the god of wine and drunkenness, Bacchus (or Dionysus) ranking highly amongst the gods in both cultures. Yet wine in the Classical world was quite different from the wine we drink today; it was much stronger and was routinely mixed with at least fifty-per-cent water, in order to be properly enjoyed. It also frequently contained leftover sediments from the production process and thus, when preparing wine, the use of a strainer was essential. Many bronze strainers have been found from across the Classical World, some simple and practical, and some more elaborate. Similar in design to modern strainers used for making tea, bronze wine strainers would have been a common feature in almost every Greek or Roman household.
Bronze Key Rings
Since their supposed invention by Theodorus of Samos in the 6th Century BC (according to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder), keys have remained a necessary tool for daily life over the centuries. That is not to say, however, that they have always borne the familiar shape and design we recognise today. In Ancient Rome, key rings – rings that could be used to unlock small locks – were a common tool, as they were easy to carry and keep track of. Such rings could easily be mistaken as decorative to the untrained eye, as their unique spiral designs can be attractive as well as practical. Though for the examples that survive, we have no way of knowing what they may have once unlocked, Ancient Roman key rings are amongst the most intriguing and charming everyday items from the Classical world.
Though we might not encounter them so frequently these days, bronze bells would have been a common feature of daily life in the Classical world, with small Greek bells having been discovered from as early as the Archaic period. While many of their uses were not much different from the uses of bells in modern times, or at least more recent history, such as to signal announcements or to keep track of wandering livestock, bells in Ancient Rome also had some more novel uses. The tintinnabulum was similar to the modern wind-chime, and would be hung outside doors to houses or shops. Usually bronze, tintinnabulum commonly featured phallic designs, and served a similar purpose to that of phallic amulets – intended to ward off the evil eye, and other evil spirits.
Weights in different sizes and materials were essential to the smooth running of trade networks in Ancient Greece and Rome. Bronze seems to have been a relatively common material for weights, particularly during the Roman Empire, when bronze became cheaper and more accessible, though other popular choices included lead and stone. Used as counterbalances on pairs of scales in order to accurately weigh products they wished to trade, many bronze weights had fairly simple, practical designs. Some, however, were made in more complex and elaborate shapes, such as a range of bronze weights which have been discovered, shaped as busts of various gods. It is thought that the intention of weights shaped as gods was to instil trust and authenticity to the transactions they were used in.