When Were Knives and Forks Invented?
Knives were invented a long time before forks. Flint knives for general purposes were used in the Stone Age. The Romans had eating knives. But even in the 16th Century only very rich houses had enough knives for each guest at dinner to have one to him. This meant that people often carried their own knives with them in a sheath round their waists.
Often they were made in pairs so that even before forks were employed you did not have to use your fingers. However, knives weren’t domesticated or fashioned exclusively for table use until the Bourbon Dynasty in France. Up until this point, they were typically incredibly sharp due to their aforementioned use in killing one’s food.
As such, the presence of knives at a table posed a constant threat. It’s important to remember that this was also an age where a significant source of hydration came from wine and ale. Therefore, it wasn’t uncommon for the particularly inebriated to accidentally puncture their mouths whilst trying to eat their food. Of course, when forks began gaining in popularity during the Middle Ages, this resulted in less of a need for a pointed knife during meal times.
As such, in 1669, Louis XIV- the same guy who loved doing up his hair and wearing tights and high heels as was the manly fashion at the time- made these overly sharp knives illegal at the table and replaced them with blunt and wider ones. This has for the most part remained the norm up until the present day, though the standardized stainless steel variety weren’t introduced until around the 20th century.
The first forks had only two prongs like a carving fork, and there was usually only one in a house. The use of forks at table was probably introduced into Europe from the East through the Venetians in the 11th Century. Some of the earliest known uses of forks with food occurred in Ancient Egypt, where large forks were used as cooking utensils. Bone forks had been found in archaeological sites of the Bronze Age Qijia culture (2400–1900 BC), the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1050 BC), as well as later Chinese dynasties.
A stone carving from an Eastern Han tomb (in Ta-kua-liang, Suide County, Shaanxi) depicts three hanging two-pronged forks in a dining scene. Conversely, similar forks has also been depicted on top of a stove in a scene at another Eastern Han tomb (in Suide County, Shaanxi). In the Roman Empire, bronze and silver forks were used, and indeed many examples are displayed in museums around Europe. The use varied according to local customs, social class and the nature of food, but forks of the earlier periods were mostly used as cooking and serving utensils.
The personal table fork was most likely invented in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, where they were in common use by the 4th century (its origin may even go back to Ancient Greece, before the Roman period). Records show that by the 9th century a similar utensil known as a barjyn was in limited use in Persia within some elite circles. By the 10th century, the table fork was in common use throughout the Middle East.
The first recorded introduction of the fork to Western Europe, as recorded by the theologian and cardinal Peter Damian, was by Theophano Sklereina, the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who nonchalantly wielded one at an Imperial banquet in 972, astonishing her Western hosts. By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula.
It gained a following in Italy before any other European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and continued to gain popularity due to the increasing presence of pasta in the Italian diet. At first, pasta was consumed using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes, a design better suited to gathering the noodles.
In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century and was almost universally used by the merchant and upper classes by 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de’ Medici’s entourage. In Portugal, forks were first used at the time of Infanta Beatrice, Duchess of Viseu, King Manuel I of Portugal’s mother around 1450.
However, forks were not commonly used in Southern Europe until the 16th century when they became part of Italian etiquette. The utensil had also gained some currency in Spain by this time, its use gradually spread to France. Nevertheless, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century.
Long after the personal table fork had become commonplace in France, at the supper celebrating the marriage of the duc de Chartres to Louis XIV’s natural daughter in 1692, the seating was described in the court memoirs of Saint-Simon: “King James having his Queen on his right hand and the King on his left, and each with their cadenas.” In Perrault’s contemporaneous fairy tale of La Belle au bois dormant (1697), each of the fairies invited for the christening is presented with a splendid “fork holder”.
The fork’s adoption in northern Europe was slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, St. Peter Damian seeing it as “excessive delicacy”: It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain, although some sources say that forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 17th century.
The fork did not become popular in North America until near the time of the American Revolution. The curved fork used in most parts of the world today was developed in Germany in the mid 18th century while the standard four-tine design became current in the early 19th century. The fork was important in Germany because they believed that eating with the fingers was rude and disrespectful. The fork led to family dinners and sit-down meals, which are important features of German culture.