2. The use of ojbelivskoi

Numismatists have failed to consider that the long thin rectangular spits found at the Heraion were an object of daily use in Greece, both in preclassical and in classical times.

They were called ojbelivskoi, boupovroi ojbeloiv, or boupovroi ojbelivskoi. The ojbelov" is a pointed tool, a spike, as indicated also by its etymology: the word ojbelov" with its parallel forms ojbolov" and ojdelov", is derived from bavllw and its parallel form -dellw, the basic meaning of which is “to prick.”[14] It is connected with belovnh, “needle,” bevlo", ”missile, pointed weapon,” ojxubelhv", “sharp-pointed,” devlli", “wasp.” The ojbelov" in question is a particular type which is known as ojbelivsko" or boupovro" ojbelov"; it is called simply ojbelov" in contexts which make its precise nature evident. Although grammatically ojbelivsko" is a diminutive of ojbelov", the suffix is used in this case not to express smallness, but to form a derivative more pregnant in meaning, as often happens with diminutive endings. Pierre Chantraine[15] has pointed out that the suffix –isko" is commonly used in technological language to create a specific term for an instrument of a definite shape and purpose. In the case of ojbelivsko", the suffix gives to the noun ojbelov" that precise sense which is otherwise given by the adjective boupovro". This adjective is compounded from the verb peivrw which means “to transfix with a broach”:

Od. X 124

ijcqu;" dÆw}" peivronta"
“spearing them like fishes”

Il. XXI 577

peri; douri; peparmevnh
“pierced with a spear”

In its more frequent use it means “to stick meat on a spit for cooking.”

Od. III 33

kreva w[ptwn a[lla tÆe[peiron

Pausanias IV XVII 1

ojbeloi'", oi|" ta; kreva e[peiron ojptwsai

The passages just quoted disprove the notion that the “beef-piercing spikes” were goads (Rindtreibspiesse), as maintained by Kurt Regling;[16] but the prevalent conflicting opinion that they were used for spitting and roasting a whole animal or big parts of it, is not correct either.[17] It is true that the ojbelivskoi were used to cook meat on the fire, but by a method different from any of modern times. They were not used for roasting—in the sense of slowly revolving around the fire—a whole animal or big parts of it. The animal, which could be a pig,[18] a goat,[19] a sheep,[20] as well as an ox,[21] was cut into small pieces according to definite rules, and each part was handled in a different manner according to its nature. From Homer one gathers that there were two ways of cooking the meat: one, called kaivein, which is broiling by exposing directly to the flame; and the other, which Homer called ojpta'n[22] and later writers ejpanqrakivzein,[23] which corresponds to our roasting. Wehn the fire is burning lively, various selected parts of the animal, among which are the thighs (mh'rh) and the viscera (splavgcna), are spitted on the tip of the ojbelivskoi and scorched by the flame[24]; after the fire has died down and the embers have been scattered,[25] the rest of the meat, divided into slices, is tied with strings around the ojjbelivsko", and roasted by the heat of the embers (plate I). In this second operation only, not in the first, the ojbelivskoi rested on supports (krateutaiv); whereas during the first operation, which seems to have been the more important one, the ojbelivskoi were held in the hand while the meat was seared by the blaze. The idiom to; qermo;n tou' ojbelou' aiJrei'sqai[26] “to tackle a problem by the wrong end,” implies that this operation was so rapid that only one end of the metal spits had time to get hot. Even though the pieces broiled this way were very small, they were generally spitted on more than one ojbelivsko". Most of the parts are held by a number of spits varying from two to about half a dozen; it is difficult to determine the maximum number in the ceramic representations (plate II). The reason for using more than one spit is that the ojbelivskoi serve also as skewers, to keep the various cuts of meat in a definite position with the alternation of fat and lean.[27] Vase paintings show that there is one specific portion, twisted around the tip of the spit as if it were a rag, which is always held by a single ojbelivsko" (Plates II, III); this is probably the part which was dedicated to the gods and charred completely.

Because several spits were needed for cooking a single animal, the ojbelivskoi were kept in sets. This has been pointed out by Joseph Déchelette[28] on the basis of iron and bronze specimens found in a territory extending from Central Italy to the German Palatinate and southern Spain. The number of spits in a set varies, to our knowledge from five to eight. Most of the sets come from Etruscan territory or from Italic and Celtic territory under direct Etruscan influence;[29] but this is not sufficient to prove, as Déchette assumes, that all sets found thoughout Western Europe are imitations of Etruscan models. The sets studied by Déchette, to which there must be added an Etruscan set in the Metropolitan Museum,[30] may be divided into three types, according to the shape of the butt;[31] all three of these types are also represented on Greek vases. All specimens of these three types, whether they are of bronze or of iron, have approximately the same length and weight as those of the Heraion. They differ, however, from those of the Heraion in that, instead of having a point like that of a spear, their point is tapered like that of a pencil. The butt may be plain, as in some Greek vases (Plate III), and in a set found in the bed of the Saône River; in this set the pieces are kept together by being inserted into a tube–like handle (Plate V). The butt may be thickened and pierced by a hole, through which goes the peg of a clevis, as in all pieces from Italy (Plates VI, VII) and in one represented on a Greek vase (Plate VIII). Finally, there is a type in which the butt looks like the handle of a sword; this type has been found in southern Spain,[32] and is depicted on many Greek vases (Plates II, IV) and on the Etruscan Situal della Cartosa (Plate IX).

No set of ojbelivskoi identical with those of the Heraion has yet come to light; but such a set is clearly drawn on a vase painted by the artist known as the Pan–painter (Plate X). In this set the pieces are kept together by sliding metal rings, which are also used in the sets found in the Gallic cemetery at Montefortino (Plate VI). Since the Pan-painter, who lived in the first half of the fifth century B.C.,[33] has also depicted spits of the sword-handle type (Plate II), one cannot presume, in the present state of the evidence, that there were preferences for one type or the other according to historical period or geographical region.

Déchette[34] believes that a set of ojbelivskoi, united by one of the above-mentioned devices, are called dracmhv; but he is not correct on this point, because such sets were used in classical times and there is no evidence that they were called dracmaiv. If they had been so called Herakleides of Pontos, in explaining why six obols are called a drachma, would have made some reference to the fact. In order to prove that in Greece in classical times the ojbelivskoi came in sets of six, Déchette quotes a comedy of Anaxippos,[35] where a cook is asked to make ready for a banquet, among other utensils, ojbelivskou" dwvdeka; but the same passage could be used to prove that the ojbelivskoi were available in any desired number. Even a single ojbelivsko" could be in use, as is proved by the tale that Epameinondes died so poor that only an ojbelivsko" sidhrou'", was found in his home.[36] Incidentally, this anecdote cannot be construed, as Seltman suggests,[37] to prove that iron money was in use in Boiotia at the time. As for the use of a single ojbelivsko", it is possible that, in the houses of less fortunate families in classical times, it was used mainly for baking bread, since ojbelivskoi were also used to prepare bread by toasting the dough. The bread so prepared was called ojbeliva", and loaves of it, left on the spits, were carried in sacred processions by ojbeliafovroi.[38] Such a method of baking bread was very rapid and did not require an oven; for these reasons it was used by soldiers in the field.[39] However, when ojbelivskoi were used for preparing meat, a set of about half a dozen was needed. Since at Montefortino there have been found sets of six, seven, and eight pieces, it must be concluded that there was no custom fixing the precise number of ojbelivskoi in a set.

Déchelette[40] has pointed out that the word pempwvbolon, used by Homer in two identical lines,[41] does not mean, as it was believed, a five-pronged fork, but a set of five ojbelivskoi. It is likely that all sets were called by similar compounds, according to the number of their pieces.[42] In my opinion, the term dracmhv, “handful,” was applied to the ojbelivskoi only when they were used as a medium of exchange.[43] It does not designate any specific object, but a unit of account.[44] Only after silver money was introduced, the equivalent in iron of a silver shekel was referred to as drachma for the sake of convenience. If the term drachma were not a later development, it would be difficult to explain why half a drachma is much more often called triwvbolon than hjmivdracmon, and why, in an inscription of Oropos, a drachma and a half is called ejnneovbolon dokivmou ajrgurivou.[45]


[14]Émile Boissace, Dictionnaire étymoplogique de la langue grecque étudiée dans ses rapportss avec les autres langues indo-européenes (Heidelberg, 1938), s.v. bavllw, devlliqe", ojbelov."

[15]La Formation des noms en grec ancien (Paris, 1933), 407.

[16]”Geld,” R.V., IV 219. According to Svoronos, op. cit., 197, 202, ancient sources (?) describe the ojbelivskoi not only as roasting spits, but also as ox-goads and darts.

[17]This point has been seen by Bernhard Laum, Heiliges Geld; Eine historische Untersuchung über den sakrale Ursprung des Geldes (Tübingen, 1924), 107, in a book otherwise full of questionable statements.

[18]Od. XIV, 73.

[19]Il. IX, 207.

[20]Il. XXIV, 621.

[21]Il. VII, 314.

[22]Il. I, 459-466; IX, 206-217.

[23]Kratinos fr. 143 Kock; Aristophanes Ranae 670; Hesychios s.v. cnaujmata; Pollux II, 55.

[24]Il. I, 464, II, 423.

[25]Il. X, 212.

[26]Suidas, s.v. ojbolov".

[27]Il. I, 461; Od. XIV, 427.

[28]“Broches en fer d’époque gauloise servant de monnaie primitive; Études sur l’origine de la drachme et de l’obole,” La Collection Millon; Antiquités préhistoriques et gallo-raomaines (Paris, 1913), 191-243.

[29]These objects were identified with the Greek ojbelivskoi by Edoardo Brizio, ”Il sepolcreto gallico di Montefortino presso Arcevia,” Monumenti Antichi, IX (1901), 776.

[30]Gisela M. A. Richter, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes (New York, 1915), nos. 677-681. All five pieces of this set have almost the same length, 104 cm. Miss Richter has provided me with the following information about their weight:                                                          

no. 677 
  425 grams
678 
  446
679 
  513
680 
  455
681
  446

[31]Wade-Gery, op. cit., 259, deals briefly with the problem of the various types of ojbelivskoi. His conclusions are unsatisfactory.

[32]Déchette, op. cit., fig. 47.

[33]John Davidson Beazley, Der Pan-Maler, Bilder griechischen Vasen 4 (Berlin, 1931), 17.

[34]Op. cit., 212.

[35]fr. 6 Kock.

[36]Plutarch, Fabius Max., XXVII.

[37]Athens, 121, n. 3.

[38]Athenaios III 111 b; Pollux I 248; Hesychios s.v.ajkrobolivde".

[39]Athenaiso III 111 b.

[40]op. cit., 213. For the traditional point of view, see Wolfgang Helbig, Das Homerische Epos aus den denkmälern erlautert, (Leipzig, 1887), 353.

[41]Il. I 463; Od. III 460.

[42]Eustathios ad Il. I. 463: trisi;n e[peiron ojbeloi'", o}i levgointo a}n triwvbola.

[43]Cf. Georg Thilenius, “Primitive Geld,” Archiv für Anthropologie, XVIII (1921), 28.

[44]Cf. Herodotos III, 13: pentakosiva" mneva" ajrgurivou...tauvta" drassovmeno" aujtoceirivh/ diespeivrh/ th'/ stratia'/.

[45]I.G. VII 235, 22.