At the heart of Hula valley in northern Israel lies the archaeological site of Omrit, where a large Roman temple complex is being excavated.
Archaeologists have recently unearthed the remains of a 1,900 year old house in the vicinity of the temple, with elaborate frescoes showing scenes of nature. But the house also concealed a number of unexpected objects – including ancient amulets in the shape of a phallus.
It might be difficult to understand these bizarre artifacts and purpose they served, however, it’s clear that sex was a an important part of Roman belief systems, art, and humour.Paintings, statues and everyday objects depicting sexual organs and erotic scenes were not confined to the private sphere, they were on display both in public and domestic realm.
Many striking examples have been found in Pompeii. Archaeologists who have worked there throughout the years have been exposed to phallic symbols and sexual imagery in the artworks they have recovered.
Amulets in the shape of penises, like the ones found in Omrit, are not that rare and have been discovered at many other archaeological sites throughout the ancient Roman world.
Well, possibly these replicas of male genitals had some social implication and meanings which different from what we would assign to them currently.
However, according to archaeologists, these phallic amulets and artworks depicting sexual organs had not been made with the intention of arousing the viewer, rather for amusing him and safeguarding against the ‘evil eye’.
The superstition regarding evil eye
The ‘evil eye’ is basically a superstition which states that a person can be harmful or can curse other people just by looking at them with a wicked look. This was a common belief in both ancient Roman and Greek culture, including many other cultures all over the globe.
These amulets were used as a protection for the Romans; however, basically they seemed to have represented the phallus. Even, they were represented both in the shape of jewellery or just as practical household products like wind chimes and lamps.
The divine phallus, named fascinum was also used as good luck charms for the kids in order to protect them from the evil eye.
The power of phallic symbols is represented by many mosaics for giving protection people against the evil eye. Take the image given below as an example which shows a Roman mosaic from Antiochia, in which an eye gets pierced by a sword and trident, alongside a dwarf with a big phallus.
A sign of power or a matter of laughter and amusement
Perhaps these amulets were made and used for warding off the vulnerable influences, but in Roman art, they have been made for conveying amusement and laughter.
The example of God Priapus is especially interesting while discussing the connection of the symbolism with phallic imagery in old Roman culture. Priapus is the recognised by his huge phallus.
According to the anatomy of Priapus, the phallic imagery also represents a form or power and it is suggested by a painting which is found at the House of the Vetti in Pompeii. This painting shows Priapus weighing his gigantic penis on a scale.
Ancient Romans may have had penis problem
The men of ancient Rome may have suffered from a painful penis problem, an Italian researcher says after studying a rare, surviving 2,000-year-old fresco from Pompeii, the city that was covered with lava in the eruption of Vesuvius.
The fresco, discovered at the entrance to the House of the Vettii in Pompeii, depicts the Roman god Priapus with a large, erect penis, a customary image for the ancient Romans, who wanted to depict their virility. Priapus was a god to be reckoned with, representing all kinds of fertility-related things, from fruit and livestock to male genitalia.
In the fresco, Priapus was suffering from phimosis – a condition of the penis where the foreskin does not fully retract, which can be debilitating in certain forms. And since we usually associate gods with the best in mere mortals, Dr. Francesco Galassi believes the condition afflicted the majority of Pompeii men of the time, according to Discovery News.
“This condition presents different grades of severity, and in this specific case appears to be of the highest grade, in which there is no skin retractability on the glans,” he told the website.