Were the ancient Romans obsessed with dick pics?

Archaeologists have uncovered one of the largest ancient phalluses in existence during excavations in Cordóba, Spain. The sculpted carving, which is almost half a meter long, was discovered in a fortified enclosure at the El Higuerón archaeological site. Though the phallus is impressively large, it has blurred with the plethora of similar discoveries over the years. It feels like we hear about a new Roman graffiti or sculpture celebrating the male attachment at least three times a year. All of this must make you wonder, are we, the Romans, or both, fascinated by the phallus? Were the ancient Romans as obsessed with “tail painting” as we are?

The current discovery was made by scientists working under the auspices of the Museo Histórico Local de Nueva Carteya. The site of El Higuerón was first mentioned in the 4th century BC. settled and 206 BC. conquered by the Romans. The last season of excavations, like inheritance daily Reports focusing on strata from Roman times and the Middle Ages. In addition to the 20-inch penis sculpture uncovered at the base of a wall, archaeologists also unearthed a mosaic floor and human remains from Roman and medieval times.

Not so surprising to those following along, the phallus was found in a Roman military context. As ancient historians have long observed, it was the Roman legions who were responsible for transporting this image across the Empire. The magical and supernatural properties associated with the phallus were borrowed from the classical and Hellenistic Greek world, but it was the Roman military who most efficiently guided the symbol as it spread throughout the Roman world. Arguably the best-known examples of phallic graffiti come from Hadrian’s Wall, where around 57 examples adorn military defences. A bakery millstone recently discovered in Leicester, England was decorated with a phallus and testicles. Not your usual baking accessory (although etsy has some suggestions if you look for them).

Roman interest in the phallus is not just limited to Britain, it is about more than just the connection between masculinity and sexual power. As Roman osteoarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove wrote, Pompeii is known to be covered in erotic art: excavations have uncovered a fresco of the minor deity Priapus (with his characteristic, comically oversized penis) in the house of the Vetti; a flying penis amulet; and a statue of Pan having intercourse with a goat (to be fair to Pan, he’s half-goat himself). Doors throughout Pompeii were adorned with tintinabula, erotic wind chime made of bronze phalluses with little bells hanging from them. One example, emblazoned on the lintel of a bakery, contained not only a phallus but also the inscription “Here you will find happiness”. As Sarah Bond points out in her work, evidence like this has led some to believe that bakeries may have played a dual role as brothels. Lots of kneading and rising, one assumes.

The large number of phallic imagery in Pompeian artworks led the 18th-century historian Richard Payne Knight to suggest that there might even have been some kind of “penis cult”. But in truth, Pompeii wasn’t as debauched as a bunch of remarkably lifelike oversized penises would suggest. The phallus served a valuable protective purpose. It was believed to protect the wearer or dwellers from magical attacks. This is one of the reasons why an infant in Yorkshire was buried with no fewer than five fist-and-phallus pendants: they protected the vulnerable child.

That the penis was intended as a kind of protective object may partly explain why graffiti and engravings of phalluses are so regularly found in military contexts. Not only, as is still the case today, are the military obsessed with the male sex organ. Of course, as the sociologist Ramon Hinojosa has written of the modern military, we should assume that it is symbolic of how sexual ability, masculinity, and power are linked in our cultural imagination. We should also recognize that penis graffiti may have been an act of crude rebellion. In a report on “sky dongs” (the phenomenon of Air Force personnel scribbling tails in the sky with multi-million dollar jets), Jeff Schogol learned that some of the most prolific X-rated graffiti artists in the military were actually women. For Roman soldiers stationed in vulnerable spots on the fringes of the empire, however, it was not just about immaturity or manhood, it may have been about self-protection.

Interest in the phallus as an eternal image of masculinity and power did not end with the Romans. The penis isn’t just the domain of the military either. It can also play a somewhat subversive role. As medievalist Lucy Allen writes in her fascinating blog, some medieval women were also interested in the subject. The artist Jeanne de Montbaston, who illustrated manuscripts at her husband’s side in 14th-century Paris, liked to insert rude images in the margins of copies of the racy poem Romance of the Rose. The poem is an allegorical meditation on the nature of love, but, as was typical for its time, it is also surprisingly misogynistic. It depicts women as sexual objects and body parts and acts in what we know today as “rape culture”.

Perhaps the most famous of Jeanne’s illustrations shows a nun harvesting a basket of oversized pink-tipped phalluses (complete with testicles). how you do Allen considers this overpopulated medieval dick-in-a-box a subversive comment on the medieval tendency to see women as body parts. She argues that this image, on the “brink of a romance full of mansplaining about female desire and men’s superior creative powers… says, “Well, if you have to have a penis to tell a good story… look how many I to have!'”

In the end, maybe it’s not size that matters, but the sheer number of phalluses you have in your basket, bowl, wind chime, or proverbial inbox.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/were-the-ancient-romans-obsessed-with-dick-pics?source=articles&via=rss Were the ancient Romans obsessed with dick pics?


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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