Full Version: Foraging: Roman & Celtic Hooks
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For Robert & Marco... and those interested,

We don't know if Roman army foragers fished, but I think they did. Certain species would have been seasonal and shellfish were always available; and judging from papyrus scraps found in Britain, the Roman soldier ate both fish and shellfish. Here are some Roman and Celtic hooks in my collection, and the examples by Celtic makers would also have been used by occupying legionaries and auxillae:

Three bronze hooks from the late Republican to early Imperial periods, the 2 larger ones being short-shanked bait styles for medium-sized fish. The smaller one is a possible fly hook for smaller fish such as scarus. These are Roman designs, as are the ones below.

Two larger bronze hooks of Roman origin. The left one is a bait hook, probably a "pulled" hook bent from a fishe's weight. The righthand hook is for trolling from a boat with a sewn dead bait.

Two extremly large iron hooks in excellent condition. Exceedingly rare! They are Celtic, one for the giant tuna that passed by Massalia on their way to the Sicilain nets and then on to the spawning grounds in the Black Sea. The smaller iron hook has a flattened shank, 9mm wide, probably for attachment to an artifical bait trolled for medium tuna. The larger hook is similar to the old Irish "Limerick," still made as the "O'shaughnessy" bend. This hook is distinctly Celtic.

This is a Celtic hook in the Smithsonian, claimed to be "bronze age." Possibly, but the style is much like the larger iron one above. Again we see the O'Shaughnessy bend (still made by Mustad)on what is probably a hook made in the "pre Alesia" Gallic period. It was found in the Swiss lakes, perhaps forged by the Helvetii.:wink:

Last we have not a hook but a fibula. I bought this in Palermo and the guy said it was Roman. But I think it's earlier, much earlier and Greek.

I hope the photos can help you reconstruct Roman hooks to archaeological accuracy.:grin:
Thank you very much Alan,
these images are of great help to me, beautiful specimens in good condition!
The first picture is interesting for me because as I said I want to replicate a fishing kit for small and medium-sized fish so I do small fishing hooks.
I love the middle fish hook in the first picture is very interesting (I used a very similar shape for catch trout with salmon roe) probably I replicate in the coming weeks, when I did share with you some photos :wink:

You have news of floats? I read that Romans used floating cork similar to ours but which shape?

Hope you understand my english :roll:
Hello Marco,

Yes, the left and center hooks in the 1st pic are perfect short-shanked bait hook, just like we use with salmon roe.

If I remember correctly, Oppian mentions cork floats and ones from maybe glass. He wrote from stealing material from an older fishing manual, now lost. He also mentions trolling with more than one line. To do this, a fisherman had to use outriggers!

For general angling, two different sizes of rod are mentioned: the rod (smaller and limber), and the "pole" (longer and heavier). Here is a pic of the limber rod:

This is a mosaic from Cyranicia. Nice bend in the rod, and even a "modern" landing net!Confusedhock:

I am amazed at the sophistication in Roman fishing. They had it all!-- everything we now consider as "high tech." I went to Scicilia expressly to visit an island cave. It had fish pictures on the rock-- fish that were giant tuna and short-billed billfish. These are, as you know, pelaegic species, never caught from shore. AND the rock paintings were done in 7,000 to 8,000 BC. Amazing!:grin:

What was used by Roman army foragers is open to speculation. Probably simple, a few hooks in various sizes, a coil of horsehair line, maybe floats, and a cut switch of some kind of rod material. The better rods were made from harunda, an African cane.

Romans even used a reel-- sidemounted about a foot above the cane butt. I have an authentic example, if anyone wants me to post it.Wink
Thank you Alan,
very good information!
Just like many other things every time I 'm amazed by the Romans tecnology often used things similar to ours.
Also I read that they used cork floating similar to ours but I do not know if their colors to make them more visible, you talk about glass? I have never heard and I've never even heard a roman reel, if you post on here I'd be happy ... I am a fisherman and I would like to know what the Romans used.
For the line I read that they used or linen thread or horsehair ... preferably white, perhaps joined with knots similar to fly fishing.
I know this wonderful mosaic.
However the Romans were able to capture larger fish because they were not very suspicious and do not like modern fish ... now for catch some clever fish I have to use an 0.08 mm line and microscopic hooks!
Great photos. Is there any evidence for the use of gorges made of wood, bone, etc?

I always imagine them as an easier option to make than a hook. I do like a bit of period fishing and have a simple display of hooks and gorges. I make the odd net and even have my little boat made back in 2003.
Quote:Also I read that they used cork floating similar to ours but I do not know if their colors to make them more visible, you talk about glass? I have never heard and I've never even heard a roman reel, if you post on here I'd be happy ... I am a fisherman and I would like to know what the Romans used.
For the line I read that they used or linen thread or horsehair ... preferably white, perhaps joined with knots similar to fly fishing.

Hello Marco,

I'll adress you and then John in next post.
I imagine the floats had a quill to attach the line. Both linen and horsehair was used, also hemp for ground lines. Here is the picture of the Roman reel:
It's on a c.500AD platter in the Getty Museum. I went there and examined it. It was found underwater off the coast of Turkey, so maybe Med or maybe Black Sea. Reel is side-mounted. The fish is a scarus, hard to catch as you say. Oldest depiction of a reel.
Hello John,

A very nice coracle!

I'm sure Romans also used gorges. As you say, they were simple to make and then bury in the bait. Depictions of gorges are very rare. Here is one found in Gaul, bronze I think. It was collected before archaeology was a "science" so no information:

Fishing was popular in all stratas of society, and I've found at least two funery steles which probably indicated the deceased was an angler. Here is one:
Marco and John,

Here are a couple more interesting photos. I collected a bunch back when I planned on writing a "pre"-sequel to Classic & Antique Fly Fishing Tackle, but I never got around to it.:mrgreen.

Here is the oldest depiction of fly fishing:
It's dated to about 1600BC. If the Egyptians fly fished, so did the Romans and Greeks. The fish are cichlids, and the "skinny" ones are found in the upper Nile. So this angler imported them for his pond.

And here is another excellent fibula, much newer than the one I pictured back on the Roman Archery thread. Late Migration Period, probably Alemanic or Frankish. Seems to me that if a man wore a fishy brooch he was probably a fisherman.Wink
This is a great thread and I am humbled by your knowledge.

Any chance of "hooks" made from thorns? I've messed around with some but they all look very weak.

Post more please!
Alan, thank you very much for these information, you know very well the subject and have beautiful images.
The reel is extremely interesting, but it's amazing that fishing pole is similar to a modern one. Probably Romans also had knowledge in fishing!!!
You know a good book on Roman fishing to suggest me?
Hello John and Marco,

Reference books on Roman fishing are few. Columella describes fish ponds. Athenaeus talks of symposia where fish are eaten, and Apicius descibes how to cook them. Martial gives a little bit about angling by the upper class, and Pliny gives species.

The only two volumes I have found truely helpful on fishing/angling are On Animals, Volume III, by Aelian (who definately wasn't a fisherman)... and the wonderful Halieutica (aka Fishing)by Oppian, who was a fisherman and wrote his tome from a now-lost fishing manual.

Even so, neither author mentions types of hooks beyond bronze and iron. The iron hooks were used by Celts around Massalia and Liguria for giant tuna... "these [hooks] must be strong and stout." (Aelian). Oppian mentions long-shank hooks for fox-sharks, and he describes a double-barbed hook used for swordfish trolling. The double hook was fished bare with the bait positioned "three palms" (14 inches or 40cm) above it. When the swordfish "billed" the bait, it slid down the line to the hook. And the fish was hooked when it made the second strike. Salt water anglers call this form of trolling "drop-back" today, but the method has not changed in 2000 years.

The Roman reel is not mentioned. But it was in use constantly, I think, in all sophisticated societies. Reels, also side-mounted, were used in China, never mentioned, but found on paitings dating back to the 11th century:

Fishing(shellfish included) was a popular sport and also a big business in the Roman world. I'll close this post with a fish-dealer's intaglio ring:
It's made of bronze and depicts a lobster, an epicurian delight! The ring is too fragile and I never wear it.:wink:
Hello again!Wink

John wondered about hooks made of thorns. Haven't found anything yet. In New Guinea they used the crooked hind-leg of insects.

Marco asked about colors used on cork floats. They were "blue-gray and sea-purple," according to Aelian.

Colors for "feathers" (artificial lures and flies): "especially white, black, particolored," and "crimson."

Colore for lines,"One needs horsehair, white, black, gray, and red in color. If the hairs are dyed, men select only those colored blue-gray and sea-purple." The phrase "sea-purple" reminds me of modern monofilament now dyed red.

Aelian gives two catagories of angling. "Fishing with a pole is the most manly form and needs a hunter of very great strength. He must have a straight pole of pine-wood, ropes of esparto, and firesticks of thoroughly sappy pine. He also needs a small boat and vigerous oarsmen with strong arms." He is talking about trolling at night with outrigger poles.

And here is the other mode: "Fishing with a hook is the most accomplished form and the most suitable for free men. One needs horsehair... a fishing rod of cornelwood, reeds of straight growth and unsoaked..." Also sinkers because he mentions "lead."

My internet connection is vavering so I hope I can post this.Confusedhock:
I see it, but I don't understand it. What's the picture?
Hello David,

It's just a blow-up of the Roman reel posted earlier.:-D

The Roman reel disappears for centuries and shows up again in Britain on the 1662 frontispiece of Col. Robert Venable's angling book. Here is a "modern" example, the patented 1848 reel by Frederick Skinner:
It's still the same side-mounted design as the Roman reel, plus a few gee-gaws. I believe there is a link from Roman Britain, probably through the army or villa owners. The reel was never popular with the "common element." But from the position of the Roman reel on the haruno rod, and the depiction of nearly "modern" line-guides, there is a connection later British methods of angling.:wink:
Great thread. I'm hooked. Wink
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