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?


During the excavations of the Roman period rural settlements and cemetery in Tiel-Passewaaij (The Netherlands), a large pair of pincers was found. Following an article from 1973, the object was published as an emasculator at first. However, several equine veterinarians suggested that the pincers may in fact be a twitch (Dutch: praam, German: Bremse, French: mouraille). If it can be established that this new view is correct, it sheds important light on two epigraphical sources: the Vindolanda tablet (TV II, 320) which mentions the veterinarian Virilis and a forfex, and the Aix-en-Provence altar depicting a veterinarian at work. However, this alternative interpretation of the object is not uncontested. This article will discuss the available evidence, both archaeological and veterinarian in nature, to discuss the function of the pincers, as well as some consequences of the identification.