Strigil

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Bronze strigil (Roman, 1st century AD, Walters Art Museum

The strigil is a tool for the cleansing of the body by scraping off dirt, perspiration, and oil that was applied before bathing. In Ancient Greek and Roman cultures the strigil was primarily of use to men, specifically male athletes. However, in Etruscan culture there is evidence of strigils being used by both sexes.[1] The standard design is a curved blade with a handle, all of which is made of metal. [2] Strigils are often found in tombs or burials in some cases along with a bottle of oil. [3] Strigils were not only significant in a practical sense, but culturally as well. Strigils were commonly used by individuals that were engaging in vigorous activities, in which they were accumulating large amounts or dirt and sweat on their bodies. [4] The individuals that used the strigil varied from athletes, the wealthy, soldiers, and more. However, the wealthy or prestigious individuals often had slaves to wield the strigils and clean their bodies, rather than doing it themselves. [5]

Representations[edit]

Timeline[edit]

Strigils were not used in the earlier ages of Greek history. This is supported by Homer’s poems, which stipulates that oil was applied after bathing and was not removed. Furthermore, strigils are not referenced in literature until the later portion of the fifth century.[6]As early as the sixth century, however, representations of strigils can be found on vases.[7] By the fourth century, strigils are being depicted in other types of artwork, such as, skyphoi, and statues. [8]

Cultural Depictions[edit]

As stated above, strigils are represented throughout Greek, Roman, and Etruscan cultures in varying ways. The representations of strigils were often alongside olive oil and an athlete. The Elliot Collection contains skyphoi that illustrate scenes of the athletes engaging in competitions in the gymnasium.[9] Lysippus’ Apoxyomenos is a statue that displays the use of a strigil by an athlete. [10] Strigils were also represented on some sarcophagi, such as, the marble strigil sarcophagus of a Greek physician, which has elaborate S-shaped curves on it to symbolize strigils. [11] One source offers an alternative portrayal of strigils, “a secondary meaning for the word stlengis, strigil, is wreath or tiara.” To support the claim that a strigil may have been viewed as a tiara or wreath there was a fifth century grave that had a strigil had across the forehead of a corpse. [12]

Burials & Tombs[edit]

Strigils were significant beyond merely being tools for cleansing; they were also a common offering given to the deceased during burial.[13] For instance, three graves from Greece in the third century B.C., which contained adult males, all had iron strigils.[14] In the excavation of a third century B.C.E. tomb, which contained an Etruscan woman, there was an inscribed silver strigil along with a mirror. Strigils were commonly found in the tombs of Etruscan women and it seemed to be an essential part of women’s bathing equipment. [15] The inscribed silver strigil of the Etruscan tomb has two inscriptions on the handle: One being śuthina, an inscription found on numerous objects in the tomb. While the other, more significant inscription is a monogram, R:M, which reads as Ra:Mu. The monogram is speculated to be the beginning of the Etruscan woman’s name. [16]

Composition & Design[edit]

As is obvious from the strigils found in the previously discussed tombs, strigils could differ in the type of metal used, design, etc., depending on the status of the individual it belonged to, time period, and other relevant factors. The typical metals used for strigils were bronze and iron. [17] [18] Some other variations of strigils are as follows: Hippias, an Ancient Greek sophist that created his own strigil, made it in a unique way with allowed for sweat to drain through a little channel. [19]Literature from Plutarch states that Spartans used reeds at times instead of the typical metal strigils. [20]


Contemporary Depictions[edit]

In contemporary media, depictions of strigils can be found in the Starz television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In episode 2, Sacramentum Gladiatorum, the gladiators can be seen bathing and using strigils as a tool for the cleansing of their bodies. Earlier it was mentioned that the wealthy or prominent individuals had slaves to use the strigils to use their bodies. This is corroborated by the fact that the gladiator with the most prestige can be seen with slaves using the strigils, instead of having to partake in the cleaning himself, as the other gladiators did.

Citations[edit]

Strigil Sarcophagus in Saint-Victor de Marseille Abbey

See also[edit]

References[edit]


  1. ^ De Puma, Richard. "A Third-Century B.C.E. Etruscan Tomb Group from Bolsena in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.". American Journal of Archaeology. p. 429-40. 
  2. ^ Padgett, J. Michael (2002). Objects of Desire: Greek Vases from the John B. Elliot Collection. Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University. p. 36-48. 
  3. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  4. ^ Boardman, J.; Kenyon, K. M.; Moynahan, E. J.; Evans, J. D. (1976). "The Olive in the Mediterranean: Its Culture and Use [and Discussion]". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 187-96. 
  5. ^ Leader, Ruth E. "In Death Not Divided: Gender, Family, and State on Classical Athenian Grave Stelae.". American Journal of Archaeology: 683. 
  6. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  7. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  8. ^ Padgett, J. Michael (2002). Objects of Desire: Greek Vases from the John B. Elliot Collection. Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University. p. 36-48. 
  9. ^ Padgett, J. Michael (2002). Objects of Desire: Greek Vases from the John B. Elliot Collection. Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University. p. 36-48. 
  10. ^ Boardman, J.; Kenyon, K. M.; Moynahan, E. J.; Evans, J. D. (1976). "The Olive in the Mediterranean: Its Culture and Use [and Discussion]". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 187-96. 
  11. ^ Gontar, Cybele Trione. "The Campeche Chair in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.". Metropolitan Museum Journal: 183. 
  12. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  13. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  14. ^ Fossey, John M. "The Ritual Breaking of Objects in Greek Funerary Contexts: A Note.". Folklore: 21-23. 
  15. ^ De Puma, Richard. "A Third-Century B.C.E. Etruscan Tomb Group from Bolsena in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.". American Journal of Archaeology. p. 429-40. 
  16. ^ De Puma, Richard. "A Third-Century B.C.E. Etruscan Tomb Group from Bolsena in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.". American Journal of Archaeology. p. 429-40. 
  17. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37. 
  18. ^ Fossey, John M. "The Ritual Breaking of Objects in Greek Funerary Contexts: A Note.". Folklore: 21-23. 
  19. ^ Hunink, Vincent. "Apuleius, Florida IX, 34f". Hermes: 382-84. 
  20. ^ Boardman, John. "Sickles and Strigils". The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 136-37.