A silver pendant in the shape of a phallus was recently discovered with the help of a metal detector in Kent, England. About 1,800 years ago, it was probably worn around the neck to protect a person from bad luck.
Ancient Roman writers such as Marcus Terentius Varro, who lived between 116 B.C. – 27 BC, but also Pliny the Elder – 23-79 AD, mentions how this phallus and its representations were believed to have the power to protect a person from evil forces. Many representations of the phallus have been found throughout the Roman Empire, and scholars believe they were created to ward off bad luck.
The pendant, also known as an amulet, is about 3.1 centimeters long, with a tiny ring at the top through which a string can be passed so that it can be worn as a necklace. The amulet dates from the period when the Romans ruled England, i.e. between 42 and 410 AD.
While such penis-shaped amulets were frequently seen throughout Britain, the objects were usually made of copper alloy, rather than silver, like the Kent one, wrote Lori Rogerson, a liaison officer at Portable Antiquities Scheme – PAS, indicates Live Science.
Phallic representations brought good luck
“As a superior metal, silver is believed to enhance the protective abilities of the phallus,” Rogerson said. “We know that young men were protected by these apotropaic devices, which had the power to ward off evil, and archaeological evidence suggests that their use in Britain was very popular within the Roman army.”
Roman men, women, children and even animals wore pendants like this in an effort to ward off the so-called evil eye, said Cyril Dumas, a scholar at the Musée Yves Brayer who has researched and written about the artifacts. “This amulet would combat the effects of the evil eye, a personification of bad luck,” declared Dumas.
Amulets that ward off bad luck
As for the choice of metal, perhaps the person who commissioned or purchased the jewelry had enough money for a higher quality metal. “Choosing silver as a material can be for a number of reasons, one of which is simply because the wearer could afford it, and the pendant also becomes a display object,” Rob Collins, project manager and co-ordinator of research at Newcastle University School, Department of History, Classical Studies and Archaeology.
“However, I suspect that silver also has magical properties or affiliations associated with it as a material,” added Collins, who has studied and written about artifacts like this one.
Metal detecting specialist Wendy Thompson found the amulet on 31 December 2020 and reported its discovery to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a program run by the British Museum and National Museum Wales which tracks discoveries made in the field. The artefact is now going through a specific process required by British law, which could lead to it entering a UK collection.