The Moorgate Miniature
A rare gold Roman pendant in the form of a phallus and a hand making the ‘mano fica’ gesture, the thumb thrust between the middle and index fingers, has been discovered during excavation at 8 - 10 Moorgate in London.
The phallus and ‘mano fica’ were important symbols in the Roman world associated with both male and female sexuality and fertility, as well as being thought to have magical qualities, such as the power to ward off the evil eye. They were used as good luck charms and similar objects have been found in a range of materials and sizes. Some hung from military horse harness while others clearly had a more personal significance, such as a silver phallus pendant on a chain found with the body of a girl who died at Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.
The tiny Moorgate pendant, just 19mm long, clearly belongs to this group. It would have been a valued possession and is skilfully made with its intricate detail and individually shaped fingers. The style is similar to a gold phallic finger ring in the Museum of London’s collection and the two could even have come from the same workshop or at least been made by craftsmen working in the same artistic tradition.
For the moment it is unclear exactly how the pendant ended up in the ground at Moorgate. Although it was undoubtedly a precious object, it is easy to imagine how it could be accidentally dropped and lost in the mud of the Walbrook valley, only to be found again many centuries later through careful sieving of the excavated soil. However, the river valley has also produced a range of evidence for Roman superstition including objects and food offered up to the gods and it is possible that this was an offering of this sort. Further post-excavation study, looking at the deposits which it came from, should clarify how and when it was buried and allow us to better understand the part it played in the story of Roman London.
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