|Bronze Persian forks, 8-9th century|
|Ancient Chinese forks|
The fork as a kitchen and dining utensil is generally believed to have originated in the Roman Empire, as proved by archaeological evidences. In the Roman Empire bronze and silver forks were used, 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.
|Ancient Roman serving fork|
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.
|Ancient Roman table fork|
By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western 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 Medicis entourage.
|cutlery with Medici coat of arms|
|Catherine de Medici|
In the 1500s the Europeans began to use a fork instead of the wooden spoons or the fingers. People at court in England had small fine boxes with their personal cutlery, but according to a British food columnist Bee Wilson (consider the fork - a history of invention in the kitchen there is a French satirically sketch from 1604 which show people who use a fork as sexual misfits). Wilson also has an interesting consideration that the use of knife and fork had an influence on the dentition. Before the use of fork people bit chunks of meat off with their teeth but with the fork they could eat the meat in small bites. This trained the muscles in the jaw in a various way - and during the 1600s the Italian nobility began using the fork and then France and Britain gave up to the fork while the Scandinavian waited until the beginning of the 1700s.
In Denmark there was no major spread until the time of Christian IV, one of the reasons of this restraint was the hostile attitude of the church which claimed that Christ had used his fingers when heate. And a strange warning was found in one of Luther's writings: "God keep you from a stab by a fork for it makes three holes!" A fortable fork was a rare thing in Denmark 400 years ago.
|Danish table 1700s, "Den Gamle By", Århus|
King Christian IV noted in his diary that he had bought a knife and a fork of gold with diamonds from two Frenchmen - a very unusual buy. Christian IV was probably won for the new utensil during his travels in Europe where the fork was taking hold The high ranks in Denmark followed him, but it took still one hundred years before this modern table utensil was accepted in the broader ranks. People still managed well in the old way - the old five fingered fork and a pointed knife.
Skalk Jan Koch, Danish archaeological magazine,1979, "Den skæve gaffel" Ellen Andersen, bordskik, 1971. Erik Kjersgaard: Mad og øl i Danmarks middelalder, 1978.
English Wikipedia, and wikipedia photos.