Group of seven keys in bronze and metal

SKU: TT14-C117 Tag:

Date: Imperial Period

A: Height: 7 cm; Width: 3 cm

Crossed Key

B: Height: 3 cm

Key with a circular, ring-shaped handle and short, rectangular stem with a blade with two teeth.

C: Ø 1.3 cm; Height: 1.7 cm

Circular, ring-shaped keys with no stems, small blades with two teeth.

D: Ø 2 cm; Height: 1.7 cm

Key with a circular, ring-shaped handle and short rectangular stem with a blade with two teeth.

E: Height 5.5 cm

Key with a circular, ring-shaped handle and a rectangular stem tapered towards the bottom three-tooth cog

F: Height 7 cm

Key with a ring-shaped handle with a long, tapered stem. Blade with five teeth.

G: Height 5 cm

Key with ring-shaped handle and a rectangular stem, blade with three teeth.

These pieces, recovered by the Guardia di Finanza, are made with different metals, including gold, bronze, and iron. During the Roman Period, closing mechanisms using a lock (claustrum) and key (clavis) were very popular, in both domestic and funerary contexts.

Keys of many different shapes and various dimensions have been found. These allow us to reconstruct three different kinds of locking mechanisms: those closed with a key, those closed with a “sliding” key and those closed with a “turning” key. Over time, most keys came to be made in bronze and were very elaborately shaped. They were also called “seals” because they were often used as a stamp on warm wax to authenticate important documents.

During the weddings of the most important and wealthiest families, the groom would ask his bride to share both his keys and his seal. This gesture demonstrated that the groom trusted his spouse in administrative tasks. Giving back and taking back the keys was a Roman way to show divorce.

Besides its functional use, the key has always been considered a symbolic element with a protective and possessive character, both privately and publicly. We protect and value our house and our belongings with the key. Public and sacred buildings are open or closed with the key. During the Roman Period, keys opened the doors of the Temple of Janus, the Roman god of the door, who is always represented with a cane and a key. Janus was later worshipped as the god of beginnings, because a door and a key are required in order to access a new place.

They key also symbolizes life after death. Keys were often present during funerary rituals. They were probably set on top of the deceased person’s body so that he or she could open the doors to the eternal life.


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