Phallic emblems are found on a wide range of Roman objects, including amulets, frescoes, mosaics and lamps. Pendants such as this, were a symbol of fertility, as well as performing an apotropaic function which was associated with the protective aspects of various deities.
The phallic deity was called Fascinus, from the Latin word ‘fascinare’, meaning “to cast a spell”. Charms and amulets shaped as phalluses were worn to invoke the god’s protection against evil spells, and were a common piece of jewellery in ancient Rome. According to Pliny the Elder, charms of this kind were worn by soldiers and even babies.
The ‘manus fica‘, or “fig hand”, was an obscene hand gesture that was thought to represent female genitalia. Romans associated the fig with female fertility and eroticism, as the fruit was sacred to Bacchus. Whether made as an apotropaic gesture, worn as an amulet, or affixed to a larger object, the manus fica was used for magical protection against the evil eye. The pater familias, the male head of the family, would make the manus fica sign during the Lemuria festival to ward evil spirits or lingering ghosts away from the household.
For more information on apotropaic amulets, please read our blog post: Apotropaic Art: Amulets and Phallic Pendants in Ancient Cultures.