The ancient Romans ate with their fingers, conveying food with such grace as they could master from plate to mouth.
So, for that matter, did all European people until about the eleventh century A.D.
The Roman furca (from which fork is derived) was an agricultural implement with two tines, like the hayfork of today, and it was used for various similar purposes.
An instrument of punishment was also called furca because, shaped like an inverted V, it resembled the farm tool greatly enlarged. This device, of heavy wood, was hung over the neck of the person to be punished, usually a runaway slave, and his hands were fastened to the two ends.
The inventor of the table fork is unknown. The implement is said to have been introduced into Vienna in the eleventh century by a Byzantine princess, who may have had it designed for her.
Like many of the forks of today, it probably had but two tines. The Viennese promptly dubbed it furca from its resemblance to the agricultural implement which had descended to them.
The rest of Europe was slow to adopt this novelty, and even as late as the sixteenth century its use in France was ridiculed. Forks came into use by English nobility early in the seventeenth century, though even at the close of that century few nobles possessed as many as a dozen.
The English name fork came from the Old English corruption, forca, of the Latin word.