The Etruscan 'graffione'

7/01/2016     Antiquities

It should be no surprise to my (few) readers that I have a soft spot for unusual artefacts.

An Etruscan bronzed iron graffione

This time my adrenaline fix was duly provided by this Etruscan bronzed iron health and safety hazard, otherwise known as 'graffione'.

This type of object is typical of Etruscan contexts of the 5th and 4th Century B.C. and consists in a long conical shaft with a ring at the top from which radiate a number of curved sharp hooks. The lower hook usually has another horizontal ring attached to it.

The name graffione originates from the Italian word for 'scratch'. At the beginning of the Nineteenth century archaeologists thought that these objects were instruments of torture used by the Romans against early Christian martyrs.

graffione stained glass

The judgement of Sainte-Eulalie, stained glass window (1871)

Here is an example of a graffione faithfully represented in a 1871 stained glass window showing the judgement of Sainte-Eulalie in the homonymous church, in Genillé, France.

Nowadays they are commonly interpreted as meat hooks for spit roasting, or as torch carriers, which would account for the smaller horizontal ring.

Our graffione is made of iron coated in a delicate layer of bronze and the shaft id decorated with incised squares with a central dot. It comes from the collection of Bordeaux barrister Alexandre Nicolai (1865-1952), keen collector and enthusiastic archaeologist who published books on the Gallo-Roman. It is offered as lot 9 in the 2nd February Antiquities and Tribal art sale, with an estimate of £200-300.