The ram was one of the most popular choices of sacrificial victim in the Roman world. It is likely that this protome was originally affixed to a piece of furniture or to a household object, possibly a patera. A patera was a broad and shallow dish or bowl, mostly produced in bronze, and usually used as a sacred libation vessel – the ram’s head finial could allude to the ritual function of this object.
Rams’ heads are usually found on drinking vessels (rhytons), bronze furniture, funerary altars made from marble, and architectural decoration. Although sometimes merely decorative, the image of the ram’s head was usually accompanied by ritual overtones: as animals important to Roman religion and ritual, they were a potent motif. In ancient astrology, they were also important to Romans as the first sign of the Zodiac (Aries), which reigned over the spring months bringing fertility and crops.
For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.