For this assignment, we were expected to pick one object either from the Roman or Egyptian civilisation and write about the origin, form, utility, impact and other important aspects.

OBJECT: Padlocks


Origin: History of padlocks first appeared in Ancient Egypt and Babylon, and slowly started to spread across ancient civilizations such as China, Greece and Rome. Romans encountered first models of padlocks around 500 BC with the help of traders who went to Asia and returned to Europe bringing many new inventions and rare objects. 

The practical padlock is actually a Roman innovation. The first padlocks, requiring a metal housing and sprung steel, were invented by Roman engineer-smiths around 100-200 CE.

Utility: Padlocks are small and portable locks that have been used for a long time to defend against theft, unauthorized entrance, vandalism and sabotage.

Form: The simple, practical function of these early padlocks cemented their basic design – lock body, shackle, steel spring and key. The basic technical concept of the first door locks, a bolt that can slide in two directions via a key, is also found in the first padlocks. In fact, padlocks reflect great variations in design and technique, making them a vital part of our technological history. Lock bodies and shackles can be adapted aesthetically and socially through adornment and choice of materials.

The advantages of padlocks compared to door locks is that they are usually small, can tolerate rough handling, are easy to use and are cheaper than door locks. A drawback is that they need to be used with some kind of iron fittings.

The reason why padlocks left an impact on the people during the Roman era is because it was cheap to produce, sturdy, offered a lot of protection and were reliable in frozen, moist and dirty environments.

Roman barrel padlock, about 10 cm long with a diameter of 5.5 cm. The chain is about 40 cm long. 
Bronze Roman barrel padlocks for turning key. From the early imperial era. Hanns Schell Collection, Graz.
Bronze Roman barrel padlocks for turning key. From the early imperial era.


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