Award of Arms scroll for Lady Petra de Cilicia

I’ve done some translation before for scribal work, but I never really get the chance to play wordsmith. So when the husband of a friend receiving her AoA at Birka this last weekend asked me and the other ladies of the house to help, I got excited. Her persona is Spartan, which makes things surprisingly difficult as written Spartan anything is scarce. There’s only 2 recorded Spartan poets, and they were entirely chronicled by later authors. In this case, I was able to find some Tyrtaeus quoted by the Roman author, Plutarch, in “The Life of Lycurgus” from The Parallel Lives, and some snippets of awesome from his section on Spartan sayings in Moralia.

This is what I was able to come up with, with notations in brackets:

Phoebus Apollo’s the mandate was which they brought from Pytho, [Pythian Apollo was a  Spartan patron god.]

Voicing the will of the god, nor were his words unfulfilled:

Sway in the council and honors divine belong to Edward and Thyra, [King and Queen of the East.]

Under whose care has been set Sparta’s city of charm;

Second to them is one, Petra de Cilicia.

Who swift in foot, aides our Hoplites of Eastern Shores,

Supporting the armies, and the love of her husband unwavering

and thus, the understanding that a helmet is for personal protection,

but the shield is common good for all. [The court laughed a lot here, I wish they didn’t. The quote is serious.]

And by this duty, our king, our queen, and council

Name on this day, Lady Petra, and award her arms for her to bear alone.

Duly confirming by vote this unperverted decree

Declared six days before the month of Eleusinios, [Eleusinios is approximately the Spartan month of February, named for the Eleusinian Mysteries, another cult that the Spartans revered.]

Before the great council at Market Day at Birka, [Spartans were huge into councils.]

Koino̱nía Étos Forty-Nine. [‘Koino̱nía Étos’ is Greek for the Latin ‘anno societatis’ or, ‘in the year of the society’.]

For anyone interested in Spartan society, I highly recommend the above sources by Plutarch, and also Herodotus’ Histories.


Plutarch: “Sayings of the Spartans” from Moralia:*/main.html

Plutarch: “Life of Lycurgus” from Parallel Lives:*.html

Herodotus’ Histories:

New Facebook Page

I’ve created a page for this site, and to allow folks who aren’t friends with me on Facebook to connect. I have a lot of friends on my mundane page, and this will simply streamline the process for those that wish to contact me and get updates about what I’m working on.

All of my work, articles, patterns, and handouts will remain HERE, but I can have all updates to my blog posted to Facebook for more social interaction.

It is a page, not a profile, so anybody can “like” it, as opposed to needed me to approve your friendship.

Facebook Group for Pennsic Classes

I’m REALLY MEAN when I teach at Pennsic and only give out outlines when I teach my classes. There’s multiple reasons for this:


1: You can’t show up, jack a handout, and then not stick around for my class thus shorting the people who stay a handout.

2: It’s harder to plagiarize me. Yes, it’s happened. Really people, just cite me in your work.

3: It makes you become more engaged in what I’m teaching by following my outline, and taking your own notes for your own benefit. I do pass around supplemental materials and draw pretty pictures on the whiteboard and I want you to pay attention.

4: IT SAVES TREES. If I printed everything I needed for a 2 hour class, it would be a small booklet, and cost me a lot.


However, this has a downfall. Those that want to go to my classes and then can’t get shafted. So I was thinking to myself, “How do I make this easier for folks who can’t make it? You can’t learn much from a boring old handout.”


I understand that not everyone has Facebook, I apologize, but not everyone has Google + either, and I find the Facebook group interface a bit better for discussion anyway. Therefore, I created a group on Facebook that I plan to fill with all of my class goodies after war, so everyone can jump in, ask questions, and engage in a sorta online class. This is pretty beta, and I hope it works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll just can it.

Group link:

AΔΣ’s Pennsic Classes


Please feel free to join in advance for when the fun begins.

…And they got me.

Although I do have substantive posts actually planned, I suppose I reserve the right to brag that yesterday at Crown Tourney in the Montreal area, I was inducted into the Order of the Maunche, which is the highest honor given in the East Kingdom in arts and sciences. I received it for my research and teaching of Roman and Byzantine clothing.

I was so tired at court (seriously guzzled coffee as fast as possible before I stood watch as Queen’s Guard) that I apparently didn’t show much emotion, but I do remember going, “Ahhhh, I can kneel for a bit.” Priorities. -.-  So, for those that were like, “Wow, she seems out of it.” I kind of was, but I was very excited, and still am. Thank you all for the recognition, and I hope to do my best to represent the order. 🙂

An official #betweenthethronesie by Ryan McWhyte. Har. Oh hey look, my Bamberger Gunthertuch stola.

My medallion, made by my laurel, Mistress Clotilde von der Insel…which was backed with the orange fabric leftover from my Bucs dress. That was carefully acquired (see also: asked for) by Geoffrey, and snuck down to Rhode Island. EVIL!














My scroll and wording, done by Mistress Nataliia Anastasiia Evgenova, who also did my AoA. The wording is based on The Alexiad.

scroll1 scroll2 scroll3

Well played, East Kingdom, well played…

Experiments in Iconography Part III: Egg Tempera

Here’s some action shots of my last 2 days of work. I have to let it cure overnight, so I can’t put more than a few hours of work in at a time. That and my eyes start going “NO.” And I get impatient.

Egg Tempera is a solution of egg yolk and white wine. I had a heck of a time separating the egg, then puncturing the yolk, but I was able to make the solution with some pinot grigio.


You add this to natural, dry pigments.

No lead. Promise.

Then you start laying down the sankir, or skintone layer, and eventually all of the dark under layers. This is called the roskrish. This is what I got done last night.


Today I started the highlighting process, and it was uh…interesting at first. It’s a system of layers and building, so I had to step back, think, blend, curse, re-blend, paint, curse, try again, etc. Either way, Michael is starting to get that “illuminated” look that is typical of most icons. I feel I should be finished in the next couple of days. I don’t think I will have time tomorrow as my last class gets out rather late, but Wednesday afternoon I should be able to put a good dent into it.

highlights1 highlights2 highlights3

I’m fairly pleased with how it’s coming out so far, and can’t wait to see the finished product now.

Stealing the Worm: Silk Production in the Byzantine Empire

This is a paper I wrote back in freshman year of College Mark II (2010.) It’s not in my finest academic form, and I used MLA instead of Chicago, since that’s what I knew at the time. I figured it’s length and content were perfect for a blog entry as I have been lacking on any real substantial content lately, ESPECIALLY about the Byzantine Empire. In-text citations with works cited at the end.

Stealing the Worm: Silk Production in the Byzantine Empire
Angela Costello

The Shroud of Charlemagne. Manufactured in Constantinople in 814.

One of the primary achievements within the reign of Justinian I was the obtainment of silkworms from China. We will analyze how this event led to major changes within the Eastern Roman Empire’s economy and foreign policies.

The Silk Road opened to Rome in the 2nd Century as caravans that traveled from China and through Persia worked their way into the outer provinces of the Empire.  A chapter of the Hou Hanshu, a historic text from China, states that Roman contact was made by sea in AD116, which initiated a series of trades from there on out. (Hill) There are also Biblical mentions of silk, although the period translation from ancient Hebrew may be referring more to a very fine linen, there is one certain mention within the Book of Revelations during the description of the Fall of Babylon, as it was translated from Greek. “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more … fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet”. (Revelation 18:12) So it is believed at the time the book was finalized, that the fabric was commonly known.

The luxuriousness of the fabric and the wealth that it embodied allowed the Empire at a time to use silk as a monetary standard for a short period of time. Silk was used as a way to determine the value of currency in the outer provinces, much like silver was used in the core of Rome. This didn’t seem to have lasted very long, however, as most records show that the silver standard took precedence for the majority of the period. (“Money” 701)

China was the sole manufacturer of silk for thousands of years, and it wasn’t until the Emperor Justinian I in 552 obtained the first silkworm eggs. Prior to that, the Romans had to trade through their strongest enemy to the East, Sassanid Persia. Trade with Persia was costly, strenuous, and often dangerous, therefore it was evident a solution was needed.

There was a high demand for silk in the Mediterranean during the reign of Justinian, both within Constantinople and into the outreaches at the highest extent of the Byzantine Empire. It was the prized fabric of the notably well-dressed Imperial court and an overall hot commodity in the area.  Interaction with Persia needed to be brought to a minimum, and Procopius wrote of a solution.

The legend tells of the Emperor sending monks as emissaries to China, and smuggling back the worms in stalks of bamboo. The eggs did hatch on the journey back, but within the care of the monks they did arrive safely. With them also came several Chinese slaves, educated in the ways of sericulture, or the production of silk, and the humble beginnings of the silk industry in Constantinople began. (Procopius 229)

Although silk production began under the reign of Justinian I and Irene of Athens, it didn’t particularly pick up until several centuries later.  It was necessary to breed the worms to have a significant production of the thread, so to do this would take a considerable amount of time. Thanks to the destruction of the Western Empire in the century prior, Constantinople had established itself as the economic superpower for nearly all of Europe and especially the Levantine Mediterranean realms. (Schoeser 27) So despite the work needed to establish a strong foothold on sericulture, the Romans found themselves in a strong opportunity.

Authors such as Procopius and Theophanes attempted to give a look as if the production of silk happened “overnight” in Byzantium, but the truth is that this just isn’t the case. Although Procopius’ stunning story of the theft of the worms from China is intriguing, it was probably nothing more than contemporary propaganda. The earliest known documented Byzantine silkworms were actually located in fifth-century Byzantine-controlled Syria. ( Muthesius 150)

Initially, silk production was limited to just the Imperial Palace, with private spinners and weavers put to work to create the splendid garments for the emperor, empress, and entourage of the court of Byzantium, much like the private workshops they had for jewelers and perfume makers. Eventually commerce spread outward to the people of Constantinople and the Empire as a whole, and an overall monopoly on silk goods produced by the former Imperial workshops had spread as far as Francia in the west, but that wasn’t until the 11th and 12th centuries once the Empire had established a solid industry.

The most notable factor of silk produced within the Eastern Roman Empire was the intricacy of the designs on the finished woven textiles. In Constantinople, improvements and innovations to the weaving industry were made to accommodate the desire for more elaborate designs. These were known as pattern harnesses, which required a considerable amount of skill to operate. As written by St. Theodoret of Cyrus, the skilled laborers were women:

“…Women take it in hand and weave the fine yarns. First they place the warp like strings in order on the looms and pass the weft through them, separating the threads with the combs, loosening some of the broken lines and tightening others; then they thrust and compress the weft with the instruments made for this purpose and in that way complete the web…Notice how on all kids of living things are embroidered, the forms of men, hunters, worshipers, and the images of trees and countless other objects.” (Theodoret 55)

Notable weaving patterns in early Byzantine textiles that still exist are the tabby, damask, twill, lampas, and tapestry weaves. (Muthesius 153)  It seemed an entirely new sub-industry within the Empire was created to support this new weaving venture.

Despite the silk industrial revolution that was occurring in Constantinople, trade for raw and finished silk goods from China was still very prominent for several centuries. The Empire continued to import raw silk thread and yarn from the East as to support their weaving industry, and to get there; it had to go through the Persian Empire. Each stage of the journey from China, either by land or sea, dyes and designs added value and increased its cost. The uneasy relations that Byzantium had with Persia often made the trade difficult and dangerous, so the importation of silk and other eastern goods were subject to strict government regulations on both sides. (Feltham 5) Prior to Persian control, the majority of silk going into Greek and Roman provinces was done by nomadic tribes coming from the steppes of Central Asia, who traded for goods such as horses and furs.

An important question is raised in whom exactly, were the monks that Procopius mentioned. Sources point to them being Sogdian, which were a nomadic tribe that brought in silk from China, or even Persians. But why would either culture attempt to undermine their control of the trade?

In 529, Justinian himself passed a law within his codex that stated that Romans and Persians alike were to follow strict rules on when and where trade could take place “in order to prevent the secrets of either kingdom from being disclosed”. This limited trade between the Empires to take place at only three cities: Nisibus, Callinicum, and Artaxata, and that all outside trade would be confiscated. It goes on to list additional fees associated with violation of the law. (Justinian I LXIII, 4)

If it were in fact Persians that were the monks that Procopius mentioned, then they would be in direct violation of this law, which leads that hypothesis to be unlikely. At the time, other cultures were coming into the game plan as far as trade goes, including the Turks, whom would prove to be the ultimate downfall of the Roman Empire less than a millennium in the future, so it is still very unclear as to the origins of Procopius’ tale.

The Vikings were well-known trades people during this time period, and had a considerable amount of interaction with Eastern Rome. There have been numerous finds in Viking archaeological sites that demonstrate the wide contact they had with the continent. Silk from Byzantium is commonly found among other imported and domestic items of the Norse people. (Christensen) These examples were most likely brought back by the Varangian guards who were working under the imperial banner, and the extensive trade routes the Vikings set up from Constantinople to the Baltic.

Despite the demand for the silk goods to be purchased by foreign cultures, the Empire strictly regulated how much could be sold. It was written within the Russian Primary Chronicle, “When the Russes enter the city, they shall not have the right to buy silk above the value of fifty bezants…” (Muthesius 165) In edition to the limit on how much one could purchase, there were also tariffs placed in effect, which regulated the flow of illegal trading. This insured the Empire’s foothold in the silk trade, and helped regulate the economic impact the industry would eventually have on the growing market, which would boom during the prime of Byzantium in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The interaction with Persia would not end immediately. Eastern Rome had to continue dealing with their menacing middleman while their industry was growing, and would be doing so until the Ottoman Empire came into play several centuries after the establishment of silk cultivation.

For Justinian, however, the ancestors of the Ottomans would be his loophole to bypass the Persians. The Turks had no love for the Sassanids, and during periods of hostility in which the silk trade between the Empires was suspended, Byzantium attempted to make direct contact with China. This brought them into an agreement with the Turks, whom Justinian’s successor, Justin II, drafted a treaty with, and they supported the Empire against Persia. (Ostrogorski 74)  Similar arrangements were made with Ethiopia for imports from India by sea, but they could simply not break the hold that Persia had on the Indian Ocean.

Although the Eastern Roman Empire succeeded in becoming one of the foremost silk manufacturers of the Middle Ages, the path there began with a legend of stolen silkworms. This event aiding the shaping of a region that would be not only known for its beautiful textiles, but also for its strength in the Empire’s policies of trade.

References Cited

 The Bible. King James Edition. Print.

Christensen, Arne Emil. “The Vikings.” ReiseNet. N.p.,n.d. Web. December 2010.

“Money.” Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Print.

Feltham, Heleanor. “Justinian and the International Silk Trade.” Sino-Platonic Papers 194. (2009): 5. Web. 8 Dec 2010.

Hill, John. ““Chapter on the Western Regions”.” The Hou Hanshu. N.p.,September 2003 . Web. November 23, 2010.

Justinian I, “Codex Justinianus (529): Title LXIII. Concerning Commerce and         Merchants.” The Civil Law. S.P. Scott A.M.. Cincinnati: The Central Trust Company, Digital.

Muthesius, Anna. “Essential Processes, Looms, and Technical Aspects of the Production of Silk Textiles.” Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century 1.1 (2002): 150-63. Web. November 24, 2010.

Ostrogorski, Georgije. History of the Byzantine State. 74. Print.

Procopius, History of the Wars, Books VII (continued) and VIII. 1962 Edition. V. Loeb Classical Library, 1978. 229. Print.

Schoeser, Mary. Silk. 27. Print.

St. Theodoret of Cyrus. On Divine Providence. 4. 55. Print.

The Phallus Fallacy

Wait, WHAT?!

You heard me. I am interrupting this blog to talk about dangly bits. Appendages. Wee-wees, dangit! It’s perfectly okay, you see, because this is perfectly ROMAN.

A lot of information is surfacing lately on the amazing shiny Roman phallus jewelry, and I’m getting pinged on Facebook and email about it often, and I have been asked quite a bit about it. Well, here you go.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Phallus in Roman culture!*

*but were afraid to ask! (Abridged. There really is a ton of stuff.)

Well, first, I had to gauge my approach to this post. I mean we’re talking about PENISES here. Yes, I said it, penis. If that offends you, well, you may need to re-think reading this post, because it’s only going to get better. Anyways, I figured, well, we’re talking about something seriously historical, I could be dry and historical but…no. It’s hard enough for anyone in this day and age to take private bits seriously, and frankly, they didn’t take them seriously in Ancient Rome either. There is more penis graffiti in Pompeii than in a boy’s middle school bathroom, heck, even the first episode of HBO’s Rome shows penis graffiti. And if the graffiti wasn’t enough, well, there’s always this guy:


Well, that should have culled the prudes out of here. Hello, filthy minded history types! Welcome to Ancient Rome. Where pornography was on every street corner! If the first thing out of your mouth at this point is, “Oh God, think of the children!” Please leave now. If the first thought in your mind while looking at the above fresco is, “Why is Mercury exhibiting the…traits…of Priapus?” Then you’re in the right place. Let’s provide a bit of a background.

Priapus is a minor Greco-Roman god of fertility, as if you couldn’t guess. He also had something to do with fruits and livestock (twigs and berries?) This above fresco is from Pompeii, and well as this fella:


Now, there is a great deal going on here symbolically. The first I notice is the Phrygian cap on Priapus’ noggin. The best analysis I can give while I sit here sipping tea and giggling at pornographic frescoes is that this particular painting is from the House of the Vettii: two freedmen who made themselves a fortune in the merchant business, which I believe could have been imports. Note I said “freedmen.” These brothers were former slaves. In Rome, slavery was not a life sentence, in fact, slaves were often paid, and were able to buy their freedom at a certain age. Most were not kept over the age of 30. Pompeii was a resort town, sort of the Hamptons of its time, and these homes were worth quite a bit. My own conjecture about this cap is that it symbolizes the freedom of the Vettii, as the Phrygian cap was often presented to slaves upon their emancipation. But still…the penis, or the fact that the previous image is of Mercury. Let’s see what we can find.

Returning to Priapus, I hit the Wikipedia entry first for some fast facts. They’re also a good place to start for secondary sources. Skimming the article already provides a great deal of information, including his appearances in popular myths and theatrical performances, and role as a god. Toward the bottom though, is where I found the gold: Patron god of merchant sailing. Well, that would explain why the Vettii liked him so much. Right? Maybe? OMG wang?

There’s much more than meets the eye here, I think. What does a rustic lesser god with a Viagra addiction have to do with merchant sailing?

The Phallus and Navigation

In the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology September 2002 issue, there is an article entitled, “A terracotta phallus from Pisa Ship E: more evidence for the Priapus deity as protector of Greek and Roman navigators” by Harry R. Nielson III. Nielson, a professor at Florida State University, writes that the phallus is associated with “possession and territorial demarcation” in many cultures. This attributes to Priapus’ as a navigational deity. This is not the first instance in which phallic figures have been found aboard ships.

Returning to a primary source, the Satyricon by Petronius also bears mention to Priapus being present at a shipwreck. Although the Satyricon is a work of prose fiction and a comedy in which the instance of the shipwreck appears to be in parody of epic poetry, the fact that this was included in the body of work notes the connection of this deity to navigation by the Romans. There seems to be no shortage of archaeological evidence suggesting that vessels and ports displayed a significant amount of phallic imagery, including statues and frescoes of Priapus. I cannot seem to locate any other particular source without sitting and doing hard research through article databases and libraries, and since this is summer vacation and most academic libraries are closed or only open part-time, getting in to do the research I need just isn’t available.  I wouldn’t typically rely on one secondary source for information, but the idea  of the penis being regarded as a territorial symbol makes perfect sense from an anthropological standpoint, or really to any women who has ever dated jocks.

Another hypothesis that immediately comes to mind (again, this is my brain working, not actual research) is the pointing of a compass. Did the Ancient Romans have a compass? Unfortunately not, but they were formidable sailors with the ability to chart sea routes using the stars and landmarks. Any sort of a “heading” could be looked upon as an erect phallus. I have now completely ruined navigation for everyone with a dirty mind. The next time you’re on an airplane or a boat, and someone says, “heading,” you will think of some hairy old god with a huge schlong. You’re welcome.

Apparently it was common in Rome to have signs of Priapus with a message as he…pointed…in the direction of a landmark. In the case of this excerpt from the Priapeia, which is a collection of such sign verbiage, he points out a fountain:

‘Falce minax et parte tui maiore, Priape,
   ad fontem, quaeso, dic mihi qua sit iter.’

Priapus, terrific with thy sickle and thy greater part, tell me, prithee, which is the way to the fountain?

When in Rome, if you get lost, ask the guy with the huge erection.

Returning to the first image of Priapus sharing traits with Hermes/Mercury (winged feet and a caduceus staff) this immediately perplexed me, but I figure it had to do with a particular myth or characteristic of Mercury that I possible have overlooked in my studies.  Priapus is almost always attributed to Dionysus/Bacchus: The god of wine and partying. Makes sense, right? Some believed he was the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite/Venus, so adding sex into the mix of booze and rock-n-roll would of course create the ultimate phallus god. But Mercury? People often overlook Mercury as being a phallic god, because he’s always depicted as the messenger. This is probably due to Victorian scholars hiding anything that has to do with sex. In fact, Hermes, the Greek counterpart, is often depicted with a phallus come to find out, and was the patron god of fertility during the archaic period of Greece. Eventually, Priapus broke off from this as the pantheon continued to grow. And despite similarities between the Greek and Roman pantheon, worship was very different. It was like a bad game of telephone, really. So a Roman depiction of Priapus with traits of Mercury or vice versa would make a lot of sense. Mercury also guarded travelers and merchants, so there’s a great deal of overlap, here. The image on the wall may not be Priapus at all, it could simply be a very happy Mercury painted in the home of the Vettii Brothers to protect their sea-going merchant business. Fair enough.


Phallic imagery evidently played a huge part in navigation and direction, as well as the protection of travelers, which is probably why these little suckers were all the rage in the First Century:

That is, indeed, a golden cock n’ balls, folks.

This has been getting a lot of press as of late because the museum in possession of this artifact is beginning to sell replicas, and I want one. For strictly Roman re-creation and re-enactment purposes only. I swear. (I also have a couple of medieval phallus replicas from Billy and Charlie at Pennsic, but I assure you that it wasn’t viewed as a good luck charm or a piece of navigational equipment in the Middle Ages. What can I say, I collect…charms. OH COME ON THEY ARE FUNNY!)

This piece is drawing a lot of attention, and it should, I mean, it’s pretty remarkably detailed and made of gold, and I’ve seen more than one ornamental dong in my day. No, really, these were REALLY COMMON among the Roman people, so common, that you can buy actual artifacts on eBay where I stumbled upon  these remarkable doo-dads for the first time back when I was a wee, innocent Anna. If they are plentiful to sell on eBay for Wal-Mart artifact prices, then they were literally all over the place. But why? To our prude modern society the idea of wearing something like that is totally obscene. In fact, it could probably land someone in jail here in the states if someone’s very conservative grandmother mistook it for a cross and got the shock of her life. In fact, I would BANK on it, which is why I’m surprised they are selling replicas. Apparently the Jolly Old Mother Country isn’t as staunch as their screwy offspring.

Either way, you’re looking as something that was a common as wearing a wrist watch, er…carrying a smartphone is today. This type of amulet is called a fascinus, and was essentially the embodiment of the divine phallus. You can easily see the word “fascinate” in there, only in Latin, it’s pronounced quite differently (Fahs-kee-noos.) Etymologically, to be “fascinated” means that you were put under a spell. This makes sense as it was considered a protective amulet. Much like the blue glass “evil eye” amulets you see today from the Mediterranean (which was also popular during Antiquity!) the phallus warded off evil. I certainly like this wind chime (tintinabulum, a wonderful Latin onomatopoeia!)

Now THIS is a conversation piece!

The majority of the finds of jewelry seem to be along the frontiers and roads of the Roman Empire, leading me to believe that it was something very popular with the legions. I’m sure if you ask any manly man today if they would wear a bronze penis around their neck, their answers could be mixed, but as we already determined, to the Romans, the phallus wasn’t just about impressing your friends. It was a charm for travel and navigation, and maybe fertility and general good luck. Knowing this, it would make perfect sense for Roman soldiers to wear one. It would protect the wearer and keep them headed in the right direction, since there were no compasses, only landmarks, the stars, and apparently horny gods.

But the buck doesn’t stop there, oh no, they gave these dangly bits to children. Yes, you read that correctly, phallus amulets were given to children after birth as a way to ward off evil spirits, and ensure they would grow to be strong and virile. I’m not sure if women got the same amulet, but I have yet to find a vagina amulet as a counterpoint. (If you find one, OMG show me!) Rome was a pretty chauvinistic society, not as much as the Greeks who treated their women like absolute dirt, the Romans just treated them as 2nd class citizens, so it’s doubtful that women would have been given the same treatment.

Public Religion

The more I dig, the more I find more really interesting stuff. The Vestal Virgins (cue Lighter Shade of Pale, it gets in my head every time.) tended the cult of the Phallus. Evidently, the phallus was a symbol of the safety of the state. By placing a phallus in the hearth, it embodied masculine power hidden within a female duty. Feminists will read this and cry. There were also public festivals that celebrated a lesser god known as Liber, who was a predecessor to the imported Dionysus, in which the phallus was represented.

Augustine of Hippo writes of this in his City of God, as described by the now-lost works of Varro:

Varro says that certain rites of Liber were celebrated in Italy which were of such unrestrained wickedness that the shameful parts of the male were worshipped at crossroads in his honour. … For, during the days of the festival of Liber, this obscene member, placed on a little trolley, was first exhibited with great honour at the crossroads in the countryside, and then conveyed into the city itself. … In this way, it seems, the god Liber was to be propitiated, in order to secure the growth of seeds and to repel enchantment (fascinatio) from the fields.

I cringe at this as a historian, mostly because Augustine himself was quite a manwhore (yes, that is a technical term) before he “found God.” So this point of view seems extremely hypocritical to me that he would cast this behavior as being so wicked. With the spread of Christianity came the demise of the cult of the phallus, and most information was lost, or covered up, by angry Christian philosophers such as Augustine. Could you imagine if Thomas Aquinas got his hands on this information? UGH!  I am not insinuating any hate on the Christian faith, I am simply stating that they are mostly responsible for the prude ways of modern society. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is what saved a great deal of Roman manuscripts by allowing them to be copied throughout the ages. Their moral views were just quite different than than of the pagan Romans, which is probably why these fun little novelties did not survive into the Byzantine Empire. In fact, it appears that the Byzantines may have covered up male genitalia in earlier works of art.

I could probably spend days of research on this and write a significant paper. I appear to really just be scratching the surface, but I wanted to give a cursory look on the commonality of the phallus pendant. So there you have it. Be it fertility, luck, navigation, direction, protection of merchants and babies, the phallus in Ancient Rome was hardly pornographic, it was a part of life. Like I’ve had to tell folks before when it comes to studying some of the finer…nuances of ancient culture is that you need to throw modern views of sexuality to the wind. They did not think like us, they did not act like us. They had a completely open view of sexuality that most people in modern society cannot comprehend, so the image of a phallus was not obscene, it was simply “there.” It was part of their culture and their day-to-day lives. That didn’t stop them from making plenty of sick jokes, much like we do today.

“Your nose is so long, and your dick is so big that you can smell it when you get an erection.” – Martial

Nielson III, Harry R. “A terracotta phallus from Pisa Ship E: more evidence for the Priapus deity as protector of Greek and Roman navigators,” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Vol. 31, Issue 1. Pages 248-253

Csabo, Eric. “Riding the Phallus for Dionysus: Iconology, Ritual, and Gender-Role De/Construction,” Phoenix , Vol. 51, No. 3/4 (Autumn – Winter, 1997), pp. 253-295

Encyclopedia Mythica,

The Priapeia, trans. by Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton (1890)

Augustine of Hippo, “Of the Wickedness of Rites Celebrated in Honor of Liber” from The City of God Against the Pagans. Text can be found here.


Like what you read? Please help fund my IndieGoGo Campaign!