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Roman Locks - Home      Locks Introduction      Roman Chest Locks      Roman Door Locks    Roman Keys    Roman Seals      References

Roman Padlocks

by Donald Jackson

Barbed Spring Padlocks
Barrel Padlocks
Face Figural Padlocks
Animal Figural Padlocks
Byzantine Padlocks
Book Locks
Related Padlocks

Surviving Roman padlocks are rare. The basic types are barrel locks, iron barbed spring locks, spring-loaded bolt locks and figural locks. Barrel locks were made in both iron and bronze, while figural locks are found only in bronze. There is another type which I do not have, and which does not quite fit into any of these categories: the rectangular iron padlock with riveted case. The example shown at left is from Fishbourne (Cunliffe, pl. 82)

Barbed Spring Padlocks

Enough Roman iron barbed spring padlocks and keys have survived to give us a good idea of their design and function. This is especially true since similar locks were in use until very recent times. Shown here are some examples found in Britain (Ward, 1911)

Small bronze barrel padlocks (2" or less) with barbed spring mechanisms that I have seen, sometimes ascribed to Roman times, are medieval.

Three iron barbed spring padlocks (4899, 5034, 5073) are shown here that have an unusual configuration that I have not seen described previously. The keyhole is on the side of the case, requiring a curved slide key. The case is divided into upper and lower compartments. They are separated except at the front, where there are two openings. At the end of travel of the key, the bits on the end of the key pop up from the lower to upper chamber, compressing the two springs. With a side keyhole, the curve of the key would be critical in opening such a lock. Another such padlock of this type is shown below as Cots-2(Cotswold). A sketch of a somewhat later two-chamber Swedish lock is shown at right (Historicallocks.com/Vendel-Era)

4865 Large iron padlock with attached chain. Also quite similar to 4899, except there is a conventional keyhole at the end for a slide key.

4899 Large iron padlock with attached chain. The spring assembly enters high on the end of the case, which has a hooded extension. Possibly this is to protect the stop on the spring shaft from prying. The rectangular keyhole on the lower side would admit a simple, slightly curved key to reach the compressible end of the spring.

4900 a, b Small iron padlock. This lock shows evidence of joining by brazing. The design is little different from that of some Asian padlocks of the last few hundred years.

5023 b This is a strange one, the only example of this style I've ever seen. I can think of a couple of reasons to not put the key-way on the top of the case. It would allow water and dirt to enter, and it would provide would-be lock pickers with a grand view of the mechanism. The lock itself is in good condition for a dug lock of any age, and could even be restored to working order if anyone cared to make the spring & bolt assembly. Key 361 that is shown with it, although they were not found together, is a near fit and shows the design that would be required. If the neck were just a bit narrower, it could slide down the slot and compress the (missing) springs.

5034 This little iron padlock is a smaller version of 4899. The keyhole is on the side, although it's the opposite side, and is circular rather than rectangular.

5073 Very good condition for an iron lock

5122 Rectangular box lock of sheet iron, bent over a bottom/end piece and reinforced at the bottom with a pair of riveted iron strips. Don't see any evidence of brazing.

5127 A sturdy iron locking piece with a nice intact set of springs. Apparently the lock body itself didn't survive.

5133 Bronze with elaborate decorations

Cots-1 An iron box type padlock, found in Britain (admin.cotswold) of riveted construction, similar to that illustrated by Ward, above

Cots-2 This one with a side keyhole like many of mine

5158 This little padlock is deteriorated to the point of falling apart, but the locking piece is still in pretty good shape. Note the single spring: the key or pick required to open it would be very simple.

5162 On this example, the locking piece is frozen part way out of the case. It could perhaps be removed if there were any purpose in that. The shackle is rectangular in cross section. There are two holes in the case: a round one in the side and a vertical rectangular one in the rear. I can't really be sure which is the keyhole. There are other unusual features. Three iron loops are pinned to the lower case: two large and one small. The sides are also extended down to form a recessed area on the bottom. It almost looks like there was something that fitted there and was retained by the loops, but I don't know what it could have been.

5165 Small lock with bottom keyhole and ward for slide key. Traces of joining by brazing. Similar design to more recent Asian padlocks.

5170 This is a modern replica of an iron box-style Roman padlock. Shows pretty closely what they would have looked like when new.

5192 Large rectangular keyhole in this rather small lock

5196 Another iron padlock with a rectangular side keyhole. This one was brutalized during its final few dramatic moments of service. The locking piece has been pulled out as far as possible, exposing the spring assembly join. In this case the locking piece is close fitting and has no shield. It is slightly loose in the case. Assembly of this lock is by forging, riveting and brazing. I note that there is a substantial groove worn in the shackle where it would have been in contact with the locking piece when closed, indicating that the lock was used for a long time. Until someone lost the key, I suppose.

5232 Byzantine, gilt bronze. Only patches of gilding remain, but it must have been quite decorative. This is the smallest of the type I've seen. Very likely for a jewelry casket. The single iron spring riveted to the bottom of the locking piece is largely rusted away, which of course is why the lock can be opened. Otherwise, it's completely intact.

5236 Roman iron. Slide key mechanism, with an internal ward attached to the case, extending half way down the body (not visible in image B).

5245 The condition is sufficiently good on this small lock that two internal shelf wards are preserved, running forward from the back and from the keyhole. The bottom of the case is slightly decorated with four file cuts at each end.

5265 You have to wonder why this tiny iron padlock was made! Prettier? Seems to me that a bronze one would have been more attractive, even at that time. Stronger? A lock this size could be broken rather easily anyway. Cheaper? Perhaps, I don't know what the economics of producing locks of different materials would be. Anyway, this is a most unusual lock. The keyhole is just two parallel grooves. Because of that design, we can even tell what the key and the locking assembly must have looked like. The key is so simple that it would probably not be recognized by excavators as a key, and we are not ever likely to see one! The sketch at right shows the general form of the missing pieces.

5278 Another odd little lock. This is the only one of this type that I've seen with a keyhole cover! The cover swings out, but has a spike on the end whose purpose is not obvious. The decoration of the sides of the case are conventional, rows of panels with crossed lines in them. On one side there is a horizontal panel that appears to have been able to slide, again wit no obvious purpose. The lock has very little security, since when the cover is opened the springs were readily accessible. All in all, this must have been just a decorative embellishment for some wealthy lady's jewelry casket.

5301 This qualifies as a trick lock, although the keyhole cover is not so hard to find. The seams indicate that the case could be further disassembled, although corrosion does not permit that anymore. I did not wish to apply pressure as that seems risky. and it is a rare lock.

5315 I would speculate that this size would be for some casual interior use, for a closet, storeroom or cupboard, perhaps. Not big enough for a storefront or substantial building.

5335 I like this little padlock. It has some quirky details. For example, what is the function of that odd little nib on top of the shackle, and why is the shackle flat instead of round as usual? The point of insertion of the shackle/spring assembly is protected by long case extensions for no obvious reason. It looks to me like the lock was once coated with thick concretions. Most was removed and the remainder given a very smooth green patina. Pretty good job, too. Anyway, it's an interesting piece.

5364 Very decorative, but a little lacking in security. Most any rotary key would fit and compress that single spring. Now broken in half so that we can see the construction. Not very complex, though.

5365 Somewhat unusual in that the keyhole is on the opposite side from the usual configuration. Also, Roman iron padlocks do not usually have any decorative touches such as that end piece.


Some mention of restraints (shackles, manacles, fetters, handcuffs) should be made here, They often incorporate barrel and box padlocks in their designs. Most such are iron barbed spring padlocks, and some are similar to those described above. An excellent source of information on this hardware is Thompson (Iron Age and Roman Slave-Shackles). I'm showing here an example from Thompson. This can be thought of as simply a rectangular iron box padlock with an unusual shackle attached. Also, there is a key for such a slave shackle, along with an example of my own, Key 393, which is quite similar.

Toroid 5233 Don't quite know what to think of this interesting piece of hardware. It was offered as a handcuff or leg shackle. I'm not yet totally convinced. The bronze is thick and cleverly fitted together from two halves, but the only means of securing them together is two sets of holes, about 0.12" in diameter. therefore, the strength depends on the shearing effort for two iron pins, presumably peened over. Anyway, I'll show it until someone enlightens and/or reassures me.


We have many examples of Roman chains. As shown above, chains for rough usage were often made of elongated iron links, which provides the most length with the least amount of fabrication. These would likely be made up as required by legionary smiths, and used for prisoners. For barrel locks, the end link in a padlock chain was elongated for insertion into a small slot. Roman chains have also been found that are very delicate and sophisticated. Chain design has changed little since classical times, although methods of fabrication have improved tremendously. I don't really collect unattached chains, and will show only a few examples.

Chain 5101 with carefully shaped bronze links

Chain 5137 Bronze, with a link having the ends twisted at right angles..

Chains 5177 Three little iron chains, two with continuous links, and the third with links simply bent into shape

Chain 5187 Bronze with 5/8" links

Chain 5189 Bronze, with double links made of flattened strips. Special hook on one end.

Chain 5205 Carefully made, can't see the joins

Chain 5206 Tear drop shape links are forge-welded at the small end

Chain 5207 Links not forged, but just butted together at the end, not normally visible

Chain 5219 Bronze

Chain 5223 Bronze

Chain 5224 Bronze

Chain 5283 Bronze Coupling, with 2 end links

Chain 5290 Made mostly of flattened links, probably from hammered rod.

Barrel Padlocks

The invention of the barrel padlock. It is very difficult to believe that the Roman barrel padlock sprang full blown from the mind of a single ancient lock maker. Like most inventions, it must have been a further development of something earlier, an "improvement" on existing hardware. I suggest the following as a plausible path by which such a development might have taken place. As remarked in the section on chest lock hasps, it is likely that Roman locksmiths made up prefabricated chest lock assemblies that could be selected by a customer and simply nailed or pinned onto a new chest.

One can imagine a locksmith looking at such an assembly and noting that if the bronze sheathing were extended all the way around the wood core and the fastening of the hasp transferred to a slot in the lock case, a portable lock could be created. In fact, many Roman padlocks had a wood core, and several can be seen in this gallery. Additionally, the five padlocks recovered from the ruins of Pompeii and published by Biasiotti all have wood cores. The "Pompeii" type lock that he illustrates, (shown here) looks very much like a chest lock with the addition of a shackle!

One consequence of such a scenario is that it would have been necessary to dispense with the pin tumbler mechanism, which in the Roman version has a bolt that is too bulky for a small unit. The bolt now only moves a short distance inside the barrel, and the key that moves it no longer needs pins. This is not much of a change, though, since we know of both barrel locks and chest locks with T-shaped keyholes, presumably for warded lift keys, and with keyholes for a rotary mechanism.

An important description of Roman iron barrel locks and keys can be found in Ewald. Sixteen such locks were found and examined at Augst. Photos, x-rays and text are presented. A detailed drawing of the parts of one is given, and a reconstruction made.

Another interesting reconstruction of a Roman barrel padlock from Saalburg is shown above at right (historicallocks). It clearly illustrates the spring loaded bolt and its movement when a rotary key compresses the spring.

It should be noted that this hypothesis does not necessarily give this type of lock priority of invention over the iron barbed spring padlock, which has a completely different and generally more robust mechanism and case. The more sophisticated figural "face" padlock must have had still another history and is probably much later.

A variant of the fixed shackle barrel padlock is the chain lock. If instead of inserting the end of a hasp into the slot on the top plate of the padlock, the end link of a chain were inserted, a more flexible lock could be created, useful for large or irregularly shaped objects. This would usually mean that the slot would be larger than the small slot required for the end of a fixed shackle.

For few examples of the barrel/chain lock, the mechanisms have been worked out in considerable detail (Manning 1968 and Anstee 2001 There is also Jacobi, 1897, which I have not seen.) They are complex and very carefully made, depending on springs and accurately fitted parts. Study of these mechanisms inspires a great deal of respect for the Roman locksmith. Note that the mechanism shown in Manning (the Caerleon lock) as well as several examples shown here, are for rotary keys.

4650 a-g This is a pill box shape chain lock, important for its apparently complete mechanism. The shapes of the parts are blurred by corrosion, so that I'm not 100% sure of my interpretation, but in figures 4650f and 4650g  I've shown how I believe it was constructed and operated. Probably more could be learned if the corrosion were removed, but I'm unwilling to do that. Some observations follow:

1. The fitting on the lower outside edge is a chain swivel

2. The key was a barrel type, with the keyhole centered over the swivel. The key post was iron, now broken off. The spring post is also iron

3. The top plate is a casting, which was joined to the case by soldering.

4. The case, sides and bottom, is a single casting. No joining marks visible. The lid is wider than the case, but there is solder residue on the underside which exactly matches the wall of the case.

5. The entrance hole for the other end of the chain is a slot in the side of the case. The chain was fine, with an end link diameter of not more than 0.25".

6. The locking assembly consists of a bolt mounted in a cradle. The cradle is pinned into the side of the case at each end with iron pins.

7. The cradle and spring prevent the bolt from rotating to release the chain link, so it must slide when the spring is compressed by the key, and rebounds to lock. It's not clear how it was kept in place vertically.

8. The bolt has been damaged in antiquity, bent down by being struck with a something like a chisel.

9. There is a single decorative scored line around the outside of the case at the top of the shackle slot.

10. On the bottom of the case there is a central pit and two concentric circles for decoration,.

11. There is a dent in the side of the case near the top of the shackle entrance slot. This was done in antiquity. There is no corresponding damage to the top plate except for a small gap in the soldering residue.

4764 This is a barrel lock cover plate only, but has the rare distinction of having an inscription. (MARTINVS) Lift key type, traces of silvering. Note that the S is reversed. See also 5089

4854 a,g,i,l Iron barrel/chain lock, remarkable for its size and as an iron survival. Don't know what's left inside, and it should be x-rayed.

4858 a,b Pretty little octagonal bronze barrel lock with iron shackle and rotary key mechanism

4860 a,b,c Another "pill box" barrel/chain lock. The other end of the chain appears to have been soldered onto the back of the lock, and nothing remains but a roughened surface. The mechanism is bronze, and appears to be intact.

4875 a-h Elegant, sturdy barrel/chain lock, with obvious attachments for the chain. This is heavy, and I believe has a remaining wood core. I've so far refrained from touching the inside debris.

4877 a-f This is an extraordinarily delicate and complex lock, operated by a very tiny lift key. It was clearly a luxury item, meant more for display than actual security. There were originally two locking arms, of which one is missing. The dual shackle arrangement has no obvious purpose, except to be admired for its ingenuity. They fit into a T-shape post. Inside, the bottom hole in this post is also pierced by a locking pin, operated by the handle at the left. There was originally a wood core, of which pieces remain.

5103 Very similar to 4877, with a large amount of wood core remaining. It's in very delicate condition.

DSPBIAS. Another such double-shackle padlock has been illustrated by Biasiotti in his CD on Pompeian locks. It has a different mechanism, barbed spring, but shows that the double arrangement of 4877 is not unique.

4898 a,b,g,h Huge, sturdy bronze barrel/chain lock. The inside is a maze of iron partitions, and I've not yet worked out just how the mechanism worked. The bottom plate is iron, with a chain link embedded in it. The case is of thick cast bronze, and this lock would not have required any wood core for support. I would say it was for actual security use, not a prestige item.

4936 d-l Pretty little barrel lock with a shackle, bronze "feet" on the bottom and an intact wood core

4943 a-h Another quite fragile lock, sheet bronze sides 0.013" thick Intact case, shackle and four original case pins, main lever and external center post. Very likely had a wood core

4990 This was advertised as a chest lock plate, but not so. The width of that rectangular slot is much to wide for a hasp, and is suitable for the end link of a chain. Also, this is a heavy plate, cast not cut from sheet. It is in fact the top plate of a barrel padlock, and as far as I now know, all round lock plates are the lids for barrel locks. The smallest hole, surrounded by a reddish stain, marks the mounting pin for an iron partition.

5089 I've inserted this cover plate just below 4764 because of the similarity. This one still has the center boss. There are again traces of silvering, and the keyhole is a bit larger. Note that this is not repousse; there are no traces of the circular decorations on the underside.

5231 Complete bronze barrel lock with rotary key 631. The key turns, but the mechanism does not function. It ws probably iron and disappeared long ago. The key is a perfect fit and may be original. Not sure what the purpose of the notch in the shackle is. Perhaps for a close fitting chain link?

Face Figural Padlocks

Bronze face locks are among the most exotic and treasured of Roman locks. They are both very decorative and complex. Our understanding of these padlocks has been greatly enriched with the 2009 publication of material from the Hanns Schell collection (Pall). There are to be found 17 locks or covers and information on the find places of some. It seems that this type of padlock originated in fan northeastern Italy, in the area of Venice, Aquilea and Concordia (Portogruaro). They have been carried to other areas, including Britannia, Germania and Illyricum. The distribution indicates them to be from Roman imperial times.

Each of these locks is different. The images are many and varied. I've searched for similarities to Roman deities without success. It also turns out that many faces exist in several versions, as though they were traditional designs, interpreted by various artisans. It should also be mentioned that there are large numbers of mounts/appliques for furniture, chariots, chests, etc. that have similar faces.

In addition to my own locks (numbered), I've collected images from various other sources (assigned names). Here is also a quote upon such padlocks in the British Museum (Guide to the Exhibition): "Two other Roman padlocks illustrated (fig. 174) are more ornamental in character. One (No. 401) is in the form of a circular box with hinged handle, the free end of which was fastened by pin-bolts within the box. There is also a secret catch underneath. The other padlock (No. 402) is furnished with a chain attached to one side of it. The last link of the free end was fastened inside the box, the lid of which was closed with a secret catch. The head on the cover is that of a Sphinx, a hint that the riddle of opening it was not easy to solve. This padlock is especially interesting because of its analogy to the seal-boxes described below."

The most common figural cover for these padlocks is that of a male with straight hair, usually combed straight down and worn in bangs. Bangs were sometimes worn by both men and women, even emperors. These male images appear to be lower class, servants or even slaves. Straight hair suggests northern extraction, Gallic or German. Italians had mostly dark, curly hair. There are many variations of this image, with differently shaped faces and expressions.

Warning - - - The high prices for this type of padlock have attracted the attention of fakers, and a number of different designs have come on the market. For starters, best to consult artifakes for a listing of unscrupulous sellers on eBay. If I find reason to suspect any items shown here, they will be removed.

I have shown below an excellent drawing of the construction and functioning of a face lock (Maskenschloss). (Kenner). It is from Aquilea.

4339 a,e,f,h There are provisions for a shackle hinge and a face plate opening hinge. This is a trick lock, with a bronze opening lever that is pretty much corroded away. There is also a keyhole, so I don't understand everything about this lock. The interior is empty, or nearly so. I don't see anything helpful.

4815 a-e Male figure with bangs and a vacant expression. . This lock is about as good as they get! There is a shallow hole on the bottom left side which is likely a keyhole. The shape would be ok if I could close the lid. All the exterior hardware is intact. Inside, a bronze spring post remains. The face with straight hair appears again below with 4876 and in a lock shown by Declerc.

4846 b-g This is a trick lock, no keyhole. Its security depends on a potential opener not knowing the trick, that is, not knowing that such a lock might have an opening lever. Image G is a side view showing the position of the lever, and of the hinges. Unfortunately, the three tabs at the sides and bottom have been broken off. A more nearly complete example can be seen online (1st-net-lock-museum)

4856a-j The classic Roman face trick padlock. The lock is open and seems to be complete, but I'm not sure I understand exactly how everything works. The iron bolt is still present and is in the closed position. There is no obvious keyhole, but only a narrow slot at the top side of the head (4856J) which could admit a strip of metal serving as a push key to move the bolt. I can see how a curved strip could move it both forward and back. There is a lever concealed in the bottom tab whose function seems to be to retain the catch on the underside of the cover. This lever is normally blocked by a movable panel next to it. However, it seems that in normal use there iwould be no reason to release the catch and actually open the lock. The simple "key" should be enough to move the bolt and lock or release the shackle.

4876 a-d Hinged face plate and opening lever. Iron shackle missing, but iron bolt in place, locked position. This is a curious image: the hair is curly but the beard straight.

4901 a-c Front face plate only. Strange features, with exaggerated nose and horizontal embossed lines perhaps representing a beard.

5067 a-d Front face only. The casting is much deeper than usual, since it must have contained the mechanism and keyhole for a relatively large key. The keyhole is curious, and the forked configuration implies that the mechanism was rotary, and so designed that the key would be turned either to open or lock, then withdrawn. The bolt, then, was not spring loaded. 5067B shows the small cast-in hole opposite the keyhole where the key post would have been mounted, but it is now missing. Also no stains from any iron components. I believe this to be Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the crafts. Image 5067a also appears on the cover of The Antique Lock Collector for the issue of April-June 2006. I have seen a lock with this same face and a flat short chain used instead of a solid shackle.

Menl This specimen from a British collection (finds.org.uk) is so similar to 5067 that I had to look at it carefully at first to be sure they weren't identical! No sign of a keyhole on the side, though, the face is rounder, and there other subtle differences in the modeling. Looks like it might have come from the same workshop, maybe by the same artisan.

UKDFD-3708 From UK Detector Finds database, face lock cover found in Dorset in 2006

YORYM-89CD53 Another British find of a figural padlock cover.Found in North Yorkshire in 2009.

5093 This is a complete trick lock with the same image as 4901. The nose is a bit shorter, that's all. The layout of the cover plate is the same. I note that the bolt is a small diameter iron pin, here either retracted or rusted away. The iron opening lever is quite prominent at the bottom. The shackle still turns on its pin and opens part way. I believe this bearded face represents the god Silenus. A similar lock can be seen in the Pankofer collection.

5098 Face lock cover, unfortunately badly damaged in antiquity. However, it is clearly the same general design as 4856, tiara and all. After discovering three pairs with a common design, I'm beginning to wonder how many unique images were actually used.

5111 Have not yet identified this round faced lady with heavy hair. The features are not as sharp as most, due to the artisan's work, not corrosion. This is also a cover, not the complete lock. The top hinge missing, but bottom latch intact.

5116 Complete lock, showing a male face wearing the close fitting felt skull cap, or pileus, of an artisan with a band at the edge. Worn at a rakish angle. This is a trick lock with the cover release lever at the lower right side. When open, that release lever can be seen still covering part of the hole for the cover latch pin. The keyhole shows that it took a drilled key; the iron keyhole post is still in place, though quite rusty.

5121 Here's still another version of the comic character with the straight hair and exaggerated nose. This one is the lock cover only, and the features are a bit blurred by corrosion.

5124 Another version of the gentleman with the straight hair. A trick lock with the release lever at the bottom. This was alleged to be post 600 C.E., which might well be true.

5136 This was alleged to be a padlock cover. Much different in style and shape from the usual cover, and might really have been a pendant. It's so interesting, though, that I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

5138 Larger than the usual cover, but very attractive. Alleged to be the head of Medusa.

5173 Nicely done cover of unidentified bearded male

5200 Not in very good condition, but this cover shows again the character with straight hair, cut in bangs.

5226 This character also has straight hair and bangs, but has thicker, less attractive features. Lock is complete except for 5/8" off the locking end of the shackle (5226b). It is a trick lock, with a sliding panel shown near the bottom of 5226c. It could perhaps be opened, but I have not tried that. Figure 5226e shows most clearly the two slots at the bottom. The upper one is the latch release for the cover and the lower one is the protective inner cover for the mechanism. Figure 5226f shows the ends of the three iron pins which secured that mechanism. I presume the bolt is still intact, but very corroded

5234 Cover only. This cover is quite similar to the Schell example 4587. It differs only in the hair, which in this case is combed straight down rather than across, and in the smaller size. 25 mm wide x 28mm high.

5246 Features similar to 5124, but the lock is quite different in execution. It is smaller, thinner and not as well modeled. The shackle is heavier and has a triangular cross section instead of round. Unlike 5124, it is not a trick lock. The hinge is broken and there is a small chip missing from the right side. The inner bronze cover, or escutcheon plate is intact, and the keyhole shows that the key had a round stem and flat bits, like modern keys. Iron debris from the mechanism is still in place. For some reason, the locksmiths saw fit to put a slightly embossed decorative band across the back between the shackle ends. This is a feature of many such locks.

5252 Another variation of the popular theme, a face with straight hair. The eyes are staring but there is no particular expression on the face. This I believe is the third such lock found in Britain. The lock is complete except for the shackle. It is a trick lock, with the release lever and sliding panel in place.

c. Oddly, the shackle was not perpendicular to the axis of the lock

d. Right side, showing the shackle entry hole. a is part of the release the release lever and b the edge of the inner cover

e. Bottom view showing c, the sliding panel d. the release lever

5288 Attractive complete figural without trick features but undamaged. The shackle moves a bit and might be persuaded to a full range of movement, but I have not tried that. As usual, the front face/lid does not open. Shackle is decorated with a simple punched pattern. The lock was accompanied by a key assembly, 5288 f & g. Close examination of the coupling link shows that the two were joined in antiquity. The spike was sensible enough since the key is so tiny and otherwise so easily lost. The spike was probably used to insert into a hole in a wood surface. Of course there is no guarantee that the key is related to the lock, but the size is small enough.

5312 I was pleased to find this lock, despite its poor condition: it has corrosion, stains, incrustations, a damaged hinge and a missing face plate. However, it is a rare example indeed; a double-face lock. The only other example I've ever seen is that in the Hanns Schell collection which also has a satyr's face on the back. This lock also has a cover release lever at the bottom.5318 The style here is representational; it could be a portrait of an actual person. Depending on how you view it, the features are pensive, sober or haughty.

5350 Another Minerva, this one found in Lancaster. Well corroded, but bearing traces of a nice patina. All these Minervas found in Britain are too much of a coincidence. Perhaps some enterprising merchant imported a substantial lot of them, all alike. There must be many more that remain unfound.

5356 This example, which does not have a shackle or the pretty figural cover, will be of great valuable to those interested in the mechanisms of mask locks. It shows the configuration of the internal iron hardware, although the components have now been replaced by masses of rust. In addition, it shows two opening tricks, both intact and both deployed. There is a swing arm shown in figures A and B, and a panel sliding to the rear, in figure B. Such opening tricks are features of many mask locks, but are almost always corroded and immovable in their closed positions.

Face Locks from other collections and publications

Zara-30 This is an example from the British Museum, as shown by Zara. The face appears to me to be similar to 4815, 4876 and 5121, with the hair hanging straight down.

Kenner-2a through 2f These are six images of a face that I have not seen elsewhere. I don't know who is intended to be portrayed here.  (Festschrift, Bayerische Handelsbank)

Patxi-1 This one was found on a Spanish forum (miarroba), and I know nothing about it. It does resemble other straight-hair images above. It's also of special interest in having a key, the first I've seen associated with this type of lock.

Schm-1 A very distinctive figure that shows up occasionally is this grotesque mask from the Schmoeckel collection. Perhaps it would be a satyr? Or a demon?

Byzantine Padlocks

Spring Mechanism Padlocks

Although Byzantine locks and keys are included in this gallery since they are "East Roman", the Byzantine state endured until nearly the end of the medieval period. By this time the eastern empire had become pretty much Greek and its relation to Old Rome had become somewhat tenuous, but the security hardware remains of interest.

The history of locks in dark age and medieval eastern Europe has yet to be written and there is considerable uncertainty about dates and places of origin of ancient and not-so-ancient spring padlocks with rotary keys. Padlocks in the familiar "modern" format seem to have been developed in the east.

In sorting out Byzantine locks from others, it is made difficult by the long period of time, vastness of area and lack of records. We must consider products of the so-called Byzantine Commonwealth: that is, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus.

There are many locks, keys and fragments that have been found by archeologists that would help in dating, but with few exceptions are not considered important enough to publish. The several types shown here are those that appear most often, although none are very common.

Schm1-7 Byzantine padlock from the Ingo Schmoeckel collection.

Mand64 An interesting lock from (Mandel), very similar to Schm1-7

SB-10 Byzantine padlock from (Vikan, Security in Byzantium)

GW-2356, GW-2357, GW-3428 These are three views of the same spring-mechanism, rotary key padlock. It accompanied the Serce Liman tubular slide-key padlocks which are described and illustrated below. The detail picked up in these casts is amazing. Curiously, 3428-A seems to have an oval medallion affixed to the case.

Chersonesos A medieval padlock found in an excavation of a Byzantine grave at Chersonesos. (NSF.gov/discoveries)

Sagalassos Padlock in the Gallo-Romeins museum in Tongeren, Belgium. Lock is from an excavation at Sagalassos in southwestern Turkey. Age given as 1-600 C.E. (Geolocation)

Mand70 An Ottoman lock of the 10th century, made in imitation of Byzantine locks (Mandel)

Examples of this next type appear occasionally, and are all quite similar. They are variously described as Roman, Byzantine or medieval. I am assuming at this time that they are all late Byzantine. Characteristics are: bronze with a sliding keyhole cover, usually missing, a "tail" projecting at the bottom, a round convex back, and scratched marking decorations overall. The front plate is joined to the rest of the body with rivets on the right and left, and two tabs folded over at top and bottom.

4897, 5062, 5175 Lock 5062 is peculiar for any time and place. It is evidently a special purpose strap lock.The following four padlocks seem related, since they share some of the following characteristics: The upper section is mostly empty shroud, with a cross brace near the top. They are fitted with a thin brass bushing around the keyhole, flush with the surface. There is an unusual cruciform key post.

Byzantine Padlock This curious padlock seems to have escaped notice. It from Vikan, and is a tiny detail of an 11th century painting of St. John at his writing desk. It appears to show a padlock with four separate shackles, for locking as many cabinets or drawers at the same time.

Schm2 I've included this image from Schmoeckel to show that the concept of four locks joined (see preceding entry) is not completely absurd. This is a relatively recent lock from Tibet. The four locks can be opened individually, but can be locked out by the master key

Russo Close relative of the preceding group of locks: "tail" at the bottom, nub at the top of the shackle. Russo identifies it as Roman; no details provided. Extra nice, with that figural keyhole cover. This is a fascinating lock. I can see it as a transition from the Roman figural to the modern style Byzantine padlock. If the shackle on the "mask" padlock were to be rotated from the horizontal to vertical position and the face cover shrunk a bit, we have something like the Russo lock.

Related Padlocks"

Russian Padlocks
Pavlovo Padlocks
Medieval Padlocks
Kievan Rus Padlocks
Viking Padlocks
Lombard Padlocks

Russian Padlocks

Beware of Russian padlocks and keys masquerading as Roman or Byzantine! I'm including this section because of the unfortunate practice of some dealers to label them as Byzantine, or even Roman! Whether this is from ignorance, carelessness, indifference or cupidity is not known in most cases. However, the collector should be aware of this possibility. These locks were manufactured in the city of Pavlovo in the 19th century, and are well known to Russian collectors. I am indebted to Sergei Nochovkin for confirmation of these assignments.

3913, 4779, and 5066. These are generally considered to be early Russian because of the Cyrillic inscriptions. However, note that the Cyrillic alphabet was invented in the second half of the ninth century C.E.

4779 Sometimes the cases of later Russian padlocks become quite elaborate

5060 Alleged to be from medieval Europe, 8th to 12th century.

5066 Don't know whether the single band signifies earlier, cheaper, or just for variety.

5088 and 5129 are alleged to be Roman and Byzantine, respectively. Some sellers are very careless about using the word "Roman" as a more readily recognizable term than "Byzantine". I currently believe these two to be Russian. I have seen a lock closely resembling 5088 offered for sale as "Swiss or German, 15th/16th century". Another was offered by a Russian seller as mid- to late 19th century, made by the Varypaeva manufacturer. I have seen a lock exactly similar to 5129 alleged to be from the 7th century, but I believe it, too, to be Russian.

5172 "Roman". Sellers descriptions are notoriously unreliable for such items. Notice that this design is strikingly similar to 5221.

5176 Very similar to 5129, key post and all, except the belt is also on the front.

5198 Alleged to be medieval Byzantine. Somewhat over cleaned.. However the cleaning has revealed that the thin front and back plates were attached to the frame by brazing in addition to one rivet. The unusual shape seems to be just cosmetic. Don't know what the purpose of that slot in the side is.

Key 532 Also alleged to be late Byzantine, 9th-12th century. I've included it here because it is the type that fits the cruciform key post.

5221 which has Cyrillic markings. This lock was excavated in an old village in the province of Moscow. It's worth pointing out that that fan-shaped lower portion of the case is actually just a very broadened version of the "fishtail" that is a characteristic feature of so many Byzantine padlocks, as shown later.

Pavlovo Padlocks

A great many padlocks were produced in the 19th century at Pavlovo on the Volga. There does not seem to be a source of information on these locks. Sergei Nochovkin has developed a classification listing 18 types and 3 subtypes. Representative locks from each of these is presented here. They were all excavated and I do not know if there are surviving examples in working condition. I will guess that there must be some.

It is anticipated that this material will be transferred to Mr. Nochovkin's site when it is completed, and replaced with a link+. In the meantime, images of these locks may prove useful to collectors and perhaps to others as a summary of some Russian locks that are not ancient Byzantine or Roman.

Padlocks, Push-Key Mechanism

5169, 5171 Alleged to be Roman, but I'm not yet completely sure of when and where they were made. They are clearly the same lock as that labeled Lars/Leonard. This was found in (Larsdatter) and is a detail from a fresco of St. Leonard rescuing a prisoner, Zwickenberg,1400-1450. St. Leonard is thought to have lived in the early 6th century. I am assuming that these locks, and others of this type, are medieval. That doesn't keep them from being Byzantine, of course, but I'm unsure of their origin.

5211 At some point, the Byzantines began to use tubular padlocks, of elongated shape. I don't yet know whether they developed or borrowed the design, but it differs from the known Roman rectangular iron slide key locks. They were made of iron sheet, rolled into a tube and overlapped, joined either by forging or brazing. They were often fitted with iron reinforcing bands, attached with brazing. 5211 is an example without such rings, but with another interesting feature: The bolt, with four springs attached, extends through the case and out the rear. The purpose of this is to prevent the bolt from being entirely removed, carried off and lost. This feature persisted and if found in some European spring padlocks of much later date. There is no key with this lock. It would have been interesting because it would have had to enter the T-shaped keyhole at the bottom and slide forward to compress all four springs, in the presence of the tailpiece!. That's physically possible, but tricky.. This lock is in remarkably fine condition, with all the iron springs intact and attached. All parts are joined by forging; no trace of brazing can be seen.

GW-3428 This is a most remarkable group of padlocks (Bass). They were found during the under water excavation of a Byzantine shipwreck from the 11th century. They were found as concretions, from which the original padlocks had vanished. What are pictured are casts in epoxy resin of the interiors of the concretions. There were four locks, of which three were shown.. The spring padlock will be shown in the next section. Because of the historic value and interest of these locks, I've shown them enlarged in GW-3428B and C. I know of no other examples of these tubular locks, although I suppose there must be some that have not been published.

Chersonessos Medieval padlock found at Chersonessos (western Sevastopol (www.pinterest.com)

Sagalassos Padlock found at Sagalassos in southwest Turkey and dated 1-600 CE (www.geolocation.ws

5323 This is a very unusual and interesting lock of a type I have not previously encountered. I was puzzled for a while, but finally decided that despite the rectangular keyhole in the side, it is not a lock at all. It is a latch, requiring no key, designed to prevent entry from the outside of a door or window. It clips over staples, two of which remain, and is held in place by the spring of the "locking" assembly. Found in the Balkans.

Padlocks With Spring Mechanism

Viking Padlocks

The eastern Vikings and the eastern Slavs, or Rus, had a long and complex history, whose description has no place here. Known as Varangians and by other names as well, they ruled the area that is now roughly Ukraine. By about 1100 C.E. they had been assimilated by the east Slavs, The result for our purposes is that it is often difficult to assign a lock or key to one particular ethnic group. But also, it may not matter much.

5319 This little bronze padlock is in rather poor condition, but interesting, nevertheless. Note that what remains is only one inch long. There are two keyholes, one for a push key and one for a slide key. The push key has a tube which keeps it separate. I think both could have been operated by a single complex key, but I doubt that was done.The lock came from Latvia, so may not be associated with the Rus at all.

5324 This lock would be by the eastern Vikings and is dated 800-1000 C.E. It has a barbed spring mechanism, the springs compressed by a key inserted through the bottom keyhole. In fact, the hole in the side of the case made by corrosion is large enough that we can see the springs still in place. I think the purpose of the taper on the shackle was just to make it easier to get out if the lock got bent out of shape a little. And it certainly could, for the iron sheet used was very thin, measured now at about.050 inches. Assembly was by brazing.

5325 A second style with a slightly more ornate case treatment.

5326 Third style for a slide key rather than the more usual push key.

5327 Fourth style with holes punched in the web between case and shackle tube. They have no real purpose except to satisfy that age-old impulse toward ornamentation. And attract a customer's attention, perhaps?

5328 Images of other examples of this style of Viking padlock appear elsewhere. There is a panel missing on the side where the shackle is inserted. It takes a lift/vertical slide key. The main ward can be seen through the key slot. This is not a strong padlock: I was surprised at how thin the sheet iron is (about 0.045 inches). 800-1000 C.E.

5333 This is similar to the above padlocks that have separate sections for barbed spring assembly and shackle proper. But in this case, the web joining the two sections has mostly been removed, probably without impairing the lock's strength. Now, however, we can suddenly see where the concept of the vertical style iron padlock came from; In 5333C I've just turned 5333A on its side, and it now looks pretty much like all the Roman barbed-spring padlocks seen elsewhere in this collection, and shown in a horizontal format. The distinction may not always be valid

5338 Another Viking box lock, much like 5228 above, but complete. This is by the eastern Vikings.

5341 This version of the box lock, also from Ukraine, has a free, nearly complete locking assembly. However, there is no assurance that it originally accompanied this case, but it certainly must be quite similar. It likely fit in the central square hole. There must have also been keyhole, but it is not obvious which one. There must have been a shackle receiver, now missing, that was perhaps brazed in the center of 5341e, as in 5338b. In figure b, I think the tab and cross are structural for mounting the mechanism. In short, there are many things I do not understand yet about this lock.

Kievan-Rus Padlocks

I know of no padlocks of the Kievan-Rus that can be identified as distinct from Viking. There is certainly one type of lock that persisted for a very long time in the medieval period. That would be locks for the Kalita. That was the money bag, a purse worn on the belt. It was worn by all classes, and differed greatly, depending on the wealth of the bearer. Made simply of fabric, it might contain little money, but small articles such as would be carried in a pocket. The wealthy might have kalita of worked leather with elaborate decorations. There could be locks, as shown in the illustration, a fancy example in brass or bronze.

5340 This is the lower part of a lock in bronze, remarkably like that on the bag shown, with elaborate decorative design.

5342 A remarkably similar lock part, this one allegedly from a castle site in Latvia.

5343 'Lock insert". It certainly looks like a lock insert, but the shackle is fixed and cannot be opened. Some sort of anchor for a strap or cable, perhaps.

5344 Half a figural padlock in the Byzantine style. Offered as a lamb figure, but is certainly a ram.

5346 This iron padlock was alleged to be Viking, but looks to me like a generic design, could be from most anywhere and anywhen.

5347 Bronze kalita buckle

5348 Another bronze kalita lock. Interesting to compare to the previous examples

5351 Not a lock, of course, but an interesting accessory. This is a bronze kalita mount: the design is ornate but indistinct. It may be a monogram. There are four studs on the back, think enough for mounting on leather.

5352 Another bronze kalita mount, this one with cruciform shape. It bears traces of silver plating. Mounting studs on the back. There is a tiny hole in the sides of the "head", of unknown purpose.

5354 This padlock is from the Khazar, Saltovo-Mayaki culture, 7-9th century CE. It is a slide-key padlock, much like Viking, Byzantine and other political/ethnic areas of the period.

5362 A nearly complete bronze kalita lock (surface mounted). The type is unknown in the west, and unrelated to any Roman or Byzantine usage. This may in fact be early Russian rather than Kievan Rus.

5370 Like 5362, it is shaped like a butterfly. However, this one has an ornate design in thin silver plating.

Lombard Padlocks

Lombard (Poysdorf) A photo from an exhibition (Commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lombard_goldsmiths_grave) published online has given us a remarkable image. In the corner of the the photo is a small iron padlock. It was found among the grave goods of a Lombard goldsmith at Poysdorf, Austria. This lock was clearly a treasured possession and was likely to have been made by the smith himself. The Lombards were resident in Austria during the period 489-568 C.E., a pause near the end of their Migration Period. Therefore, we can assign the lock a date of 530 C.E. with a possible error of roughly 40 years! This is extraordinary for an ancient lock. It is remarkable as being the first modern style, vertical-format iron padlock with bottom keyhole that I have ever seen illustrated or described. Where did he get the design? The Byzantines didn't make them. After all, this was only 200 years after the establishment of the eastern empire. The Viking/Rus made similar locks, but 300 years later. The western Vikings, at Birka Garrison were producing such padlocks with rotary key mechanisms, but more than 200 years later. We need more information, but I consider this a landmark in the history of locks and lock making.

We can be confident that this lock has a barbed spring mechanism, operated by a push key through that round keyhole in the bottom.

Pavlovo Padlocks, Images

Medieval Padlocks, Push-key Mechanism, Images

Byzantine Padlocks, Push Key, Images

Animal Figural Padlocks

I'm still looking for information on the dates of these little Byzantine barbed spring padlocks. Nearly all examples that I have been able to obtain are half locks. The halves would have had to be joined by soldering, but no trace of that remains. Shackle/spring assemblies are missing. Still, these are delightful remnants, and I'm hoping to learn more about them.

International connections. One problem in dating and assigning is that other states/cultures in the region produced such locks. Some locks that have been found in eastern Europe and considered to be Byzantine, may have originated elsewhere. For example in Volga Bulgaria in the 9th-10th centuries, "The characteristic elements of Bulgaria were . . . . bronze locks in the form of animals" (kcn.ru/history). And another reference (russian brideguide) mentions a lock from the same period in the form of a butterfly, found in a barrow.

Animal figural padlocks were in wide use in Iran by the eighth to tenth centuries. Horse locks date from the 11th-13th centuries in eastern Iran. The example shown here (Tan19) is from (Tanavoli) . In addition, it is worth noting that there are numerous examples of horse locks from Britain from this period. The crusades (1096-1270 C.E.) supply a plausible means for the transmission of such designs. Shown here is a typical British horse lock with saddle (5049). Another surelyrelated horse figural is Seljuk dating to the 12th-13th centuries (anu).

It is easy to believe that the horse figural padlocks shown on this site and attributed to the Byzantines were contemporaneous with those from Iran and England, saddles and all. That is, they could well have all been made and used in the 12th-13th centuries. However, there is a reference that makes it plausible that middle eastern lock designs originated in Byzantium. Needham quotes a source in Basra from the ninth century C.E. to the effect that "inviolable" locks were imported into Iraq from Byzantium. It seems likely that they would have been copied by native locksmiths and become traditional.

There is shown below an unusual version of the horse that has a shackle that latches on the side.

I suggest, then, that all these horse lock designs originated with the Byzantines and were spread to the east, west and north. This seems to fit all the facts that we have at present.

5036 a,b This was billed as a "Byzantine padlock, in the style of English medieval barrel locks" I suppose that would be because of the characteristic stubby legs and pack saddle. De Clerc (Open of Dicht) shows a similar Byzantine horse with saddle)

5053 a,b Not sure what kind of animal this is, but seems to be wearing some sort of harness. And what of the marking on the rear end? A brand?

5063a,b This sold as a Roman "furniture applique" but is obviously half of a dog lock, with barbed spring mechanism.

5078a,b Half of an animal figural, from the Balkans. The long, slender neck is familiar, as is the circle-dot decoration. The prominent, erect ears suggest a donkey or mule.

5079a,b Still another animal figural, this time from a fowl, perhaps a duck. The usual circle-dot decoration.

5082a,b,c This traditional dolphin is alleged to be a fragment of a lock.

5128 Very nice animal, this one with a rotary keyhole in the side.. Complete except for shackle/spring assembly.



5166a,b Byzantine horse figural. Remnants of shackle and barbed spring remain, broken off in their respective holes. Filled with some sort of mineral material.

5248 A nearly complete saddled horse, missing only about an inch of the shackle and a piece broken off the left side of the head. Handsome specimen with the locking piece still in position. Alleged to have been found in the former Yugoslavia.

5282 Byzantine, 9th-10th centuries. Bird seated on cow's head must be a cowbird!

SB-11 Another animal figural from (Vikan).

Scott Byzantine, 11th-12th century. A somewhat more elongated style, complete except for the iron springs. From the Scott Family collection (Antique-padlocks)

All coins are guaranteed for eternity