Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Stijn Heeren: New views on the forfex of Virilis the veterinarian: shears, emasculator or twitch?
2 Twitch or castration clamp?

2.4 Functionality and appearance of the pincers

If we take a closer look at the pincers that were published by Kolling, it appears that most of the pincers do not close completely. The decorated pincers from Augst are the best example (Fig. 5 left): in a closed situation, the serrated edges of the pincers are about 1 cm. apart. This is also true of other examples (Fig. 5 right). This is consistent with a twitch, since the upper lip of a horse must be pushed but not squashed completely. This is however in conflict with castration clamps, since the clamping of a bull's scrotum would need the total closure of the clamp.


Fig. 5 Left: the decorated bronze pincers from Augst. Right: iron pincers from the Saarland (after Kolling 1973, Tafel 70 and Abb. 1).

In figure 6, several 19th-century castration clamps are shown to the left and in the middle, and a 19th-century twitch on the right. The first observation is that the twitch is made from iron and shows resemblance both to the Roman period pincers as well as to the 21st-century twitch in figure 3. The second observation is that the castration clamps do not resemble the Roman period pincers at all, and are made from wood. This is consistent with the ancient sources concerning castration, which mention wooden clamps.


Fig. 6 Left and middle: 19th-century castration clamps. Right: 19th century twitch (photographs kindly provided by the Museum for Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University).