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The Romans didn't have forks, so they picked the food with their hands. It is known about the rich that after every course they wiped them and received from their slaves pots with perfumed water to wash them. A further claim is that the rich used metal thimbles to minimise how much they got dirty.

The English Wikipedia page on thimbles apparently quotes an article found on the magazine Aramco World:

Oddly, neither the Romans nor the Greeks before them appear to have used metal thimbles. It may be that leather or cloth finger guards proved sufficiently robust for their purposes. There are so-called Roman thimbles in museum collections, but the provenance of these metal thimbles is, in fact, not certain, and many have been removed from display. No well-documented archeological data link metal thimbles to any Roman site.

On the other hand, the Italian page states that "open" (on the tip) iron thimbles were found in Pompeii, and on many Italian sites I've read that they dined with silver thimbles. However, I could find no sources for these claims.

Is there any evidence?

  • @LarsBosteen Yes, but the point is that the article goes so far as saying no well-documented archeological data link metal thimbles to any Roman site, which is presumably in contrast with the claims I found elsewhere. – Vincenzo Oliva Apr 30 '18 at 3:59
  • How and why would anyone dine with a thimble, whether made of silver or anything else? – jamesqf Apr 30 '18 at 4:16
  • @jamesqf: They didn't have forks, so they picked the food with their hands. About rich Romans it is known that after every course they wiped them and received from their slaves pots with perfumed water to wash them. The further claim is that the rich used metal thimbles to minimise how much they got dirty. I'll edit this in, as the title was justly shortened. – Vincenzo Oliva Apr 30 '18 at 4:24
  • @VincenzoOliva The Romans may not have had forks, but they certainly had spoons and knives – sempaiscuba Apr 30 '18 at 4:40
  • @sempaiscuba: They did: spoons were used for instance to eat their beloved puls , knives were used by the slaves in the kitchen to cut meat/fish (because in the kitchen there was a kind of huge fork for this purpose) and take it to the table in small pieces, so that it would be easy for their masters to eat reclining. – Vincenzo Oliva Apr 30 '18 at 4:47
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Unfortunately, the Italian Wikipedia page doesn't cite a source for its claim. I'm certainly not aware of any securely-dated thimbles from Roman contexts here in the UK. I did a keyword search on reports of small finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, but couldn't find any mention of thimbles there either.


I found a number of sites that repeat the claim of thimbles found at Pompeii and Herculaneum. They all seem to use the same image (that image also appears alongside the claim on Pinterest) to illustrate the supposed Roman thimbles.

However, it seems the picture actually shows 19th century thimbles found on a farm in Tennessee!


To the best of my knowledge, only one thimble has been found in a securely-dated context earlier than the sixth century (at Ephesus). That example is thought to be an import from China.

One of the oldest known examples was found in 2010, in a context that has been securely dated to the seventh century, in excavations at Punta Secca in Sicily. However, so far we have less than a dozen thimbles that can be securely dated to the period from the sixth to the ninth centuries so there is no real evidence for the extensive use of thimbles up to that date.

The use of thimbles appears to become more widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean from about the ninth century onward.

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    One big problem with Pinterest - images are too often just stuck there with no accompanying info, or it's just plain wrong. – Lars Bosteen Apr 30 '18 at 10:37
  • +1, for now I'll leave the question open just in case someone (or myself) finds something! – Vincenzo Oliva Apr 30 '18 at 11:15
  • I'll contact the Archaeological Park of Pompeii for a definitive answer - I hope I won't get scolded, haha – Vincenzo Oliva Apr 30 '18 at 15:54

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