Bronze Pick-axe Sheath

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Roman Pick-axe sheath or dolabra sheath









Date Acquired  2006
Location Discovered Macedonia
Material  Bronze/Copper Alloy
Dimensions 9.9cm long x 5.6cm wide

Thickness: Variable- thickest ~2mm

Roman Empire 1st Century AD to late 3rd Century AD

A complete bronze Legionary Dolabra or Pick-axe sheath.  A central section that acts as the axe edge cover is decorated in multiple ways.  One edge is somewhat smooth with minor indents along it.  The opposite edge however has a zig-zag triangular pattern along it.  This center section also has a punched out design, either of repeating hearts or triangles.  This is similar in style to the Gladius Locket/plate. Two holes on either side may have been a mounting point to house a soft padding inside to maintain the axes edge. 

On each side of the central section are two pieces with a looped end.  These symmetric pieces are also decorated with three ridged lines that run perpendicular to the central section.  A large rounded rivet holds each of these loops in place, and allow them to move open to accept the axe head.  On one of these loops an extra pendant is attached with a twisted wire.  Possibly once holding a more elaborate pendent such as a colored bead or leaf shaped piece of metal. 

A completely intact Sheath and very rare to find in such a state.

This sheath was meant to protect the sharp axe end of the Pick-axe.  The Pick-axe was a standard piece of a Legionary's equipment that had a practical purpose.  The Legion/army at the end of the days march would always dig a rampart/earth wall around the camp to protect it from attack while they slept at night.  The Dolabra was constantly in use to fulfill this need and would also have served as a back up weapon in the event of a surprise attack.  The loops of the sheath would have held a strap that when tightened against the opposite end of the axe would have held it in place.  It was not uncommon for these Sheaths to be decorated with beads, and pendants that most likely would have jingled while on the march. (1)(2)(3)(4)

Example of original Dolabra/pickaxe

Example of excavated sheaths from VINDONISSA


Click on Pictures for higher resolution

Head on View

Close Up View of inside

Loop View

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(1) References to similar items: CONNOLLY, Peter; The Legionary, page 19 2000.

(2) References to similar items: CHRISTIE's, South Kensington; The Alex Guttmann Collection of Ancient Arms and Armour, Part 2. page 134 2004.

(3) Reference to similar items: BISHOP, M.C & COULSTON, J.C.N; Roman Military Equipment "From the Punic wars to the Fall of Rome", page 118 2006.

(4) Reference to similar items: SIMKINS Michael, EMBLETON, Ron; The Roman Army from Caesar to Trajan. page 19 2000.

**Note on background. A Fresco from the ancient Roman City of Pompeii. The interior walls of a wealthy Roman's Estate 79AD. Picture taken July 2005.