Key with Horse-Head Handle
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Bruce White Photography
Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

Roman, A.D. 100 - 200
Bronze and iron
2 3/16 x 6 1/8 x 1 1/16 in.

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The head of a horse with its ears flattened and mane swept back as if galloping decorates the end of this Roman key. Heads of horses, as well as lions, panthers, and bears, were frequently used as Roman key handles. The horse's head and the floral element that covers the join to the shaft are cast in bronze. The shaft of the key and the intricate eight-slotted bit are forged from iron. The lock was invented in the Near East about four thousand years ago. From a simple initial model, artisans had devised complex locks by the Roman period. This key would probably have operated a lever lock very much like locks in use today, in which a lever falls into a slot in the bolt and prevents it from moving until the key lifts the lever to exactly the right height to release it from the slot.