Scythe, and Sickle, long knives with a curved edge, the former commonly used for mowing grass, bushes, etc., and the latter, called also a reaping hook, for cutting grain. These implements in ancient times were also employed as weapons. In ancient Roman cameos they are depicted in the various forms in which they were employed under the general name of falx; as the falx messoria, the crooked sickle, still used for reaping grain; falx foenaria, the long scythe for mowing grass, constructed with a handle at right angles to the blade, very much as at present; falx vi-natoria, arboraria, silvatica, etc., the pruning knife, bill hook, bush scythe, etc. The implement was a symbol of Saturn, the senex falcifer, personifying time, who cuts down and destroys all things as with a scythe. As a weapon the scythe was also made in several forms. The sword with the curved edge was the falcatus ensis; and in the shape of a short hooked knife, the handle terminating beyond in a dagger, it was made of convenient use for one hand, or attached to the end of a pole.
In another form, which was used by the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Gauls, and Britons, the long crooked scythe blades were fastened to the axles of their chariots or to the felloes of the wheels, and were thus made to cut down those among whom the chariots were driven. In modern warfare scythes have been used in close combat, and make a formidable weapon. - As agricultural instruments, there was little difference in the forms of the ancient scythes and sickles from those of the present time, and they appear from the representations of them to have been as well adapted for their uses as any made up to the 17th century. The same forms appear in the illustrations of Strutt in his "Manners and Customs of the People of England," and were there in use more than ten centuries ago; but the snath or handle was straight, and was furnished with only one short holding piece. Among the earliest recorded improvements is the stiffening of the back edge by welding to it a strip of iron. This was also one of the earliest American mechanical inventions, being made by Joseph Jenks, who established iron works in 1646 on the Saugus river in Lynn, Mass., and in May, 1655, received from the legislature a special grant or patent running seven years for this improvement.
In the notices of early iron works in New England, scythes are generally named among the most important products. Among the manufacturers especially noted for this and similar productions was Hugh Orr, a Scotchman, who emigrated to Bridge water, Mass., in 1738. His son Robert Orr established the present mode of forging scythes with the trip hammer. The business has since been largely conducted in Sutton, Worcester co., and also in several towns in Maine and New York; but it is gradually disappearing before the introduction of mowing and reaping machines. In England the manufacture has been important for the last 300 years, and has been particularly successful in the N. extremity of Derbyshire, extending about 6 m. S. from Sheffield. It was established there by a party of Flemings who were driven from the Netherlands, the scythe makers among them settling in the parish of Norton and the sickle makers in the adjoining one of Eckington. The best of these tools are still made in this neighborhood, and in Bristol and Dudley. - Scythes for cutting grain, having a framework of wooden bars parallel with the blade for laying the grain straight, are called cradles.