If there’s any category of Roman object that’s guaranteed to get journalists titivated and trying to outdo themselves for the best headline pun, its a phallic charm. When The Collection acquired a stone carving from Braceby in 2015 with a relief carving of a phallus and an evil eye, the media scrum that followed took weeks to subside and even led to me doing an interview on Canadian national radio. You can read about that particular object in a post I wrote on the museum’s blog.
This time, the object that’s caused the stir is a copper alloy pendant found by a metal detector user and reported to Dr. Adam Daubney, Lincolnshire’s Finds Liaison Officer. Adam’s report on it can be seen here.
The 45mm long pendant is of a well known type with a central suspension loop, designed to lay flat against the body when worn (assuming they were always worn around the neck, that is). What is nice, and slightly unusual, about this example is the panel of moulded notches on the underside.
Phallic imagery, despite the giggles it can elicit, was all about protection in the Roman world. The phallus was an apotropaic device, distracting the ‘evil eye’ (unseen and unknown malevolent forces) away from the wearer and his or her house, business or family. An interesting aside here is that phallic charms were known as ‘fascina’ (singular: fascinum), the root of our word ‘fascinate’ – and that’s exactly what happened. The evil eye was transfixed by the image of the engorged phallus, just like the journalists in fact!
Although phallic charms are well known across the Roman world, including Britain and Lincolnshire, more research is needed into categorising them typologically. Different forms of pendant sat differently when worn, and I’ve had a theory for a while that this may relate to differing functions. Take this copper alloy phallic charm from Sudbrooke, for example. When worn, it would have stuck straight out from the body in a noticeable and potentially inconvenient and impractical way. Is this more ‘aggressive’ form of phallic imagery intended for times when the wearer was perceived to have been particularly at risk from misfortune?
You can see some of the media coverage of the Horncastle pendant here: