Tintinnabulum (ancient Rome)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A bronze polyphallic tintinnabulum of Mercury from Pompeii: the missing bells were attached to each tip (Naples Museum).
Tintinnabulum depicting a man struggling with his phallus as a raging beast (1st century BC, Naples Museum)

In ancient Rome, a tintinnabulum (less often tintinnum)[1] was a wind chime or assemblage of bells. A tintinnabulum often took the form of a bronze ithyphallic figure or of a fascinum, a magico-religious phallus thought to ward off the evil eye and bring good fortune and prosperity.

A tintinnabulum acted as a door amulet.[2][3] These were hung near thresholds[4] at a shop or house, under the peristyles (around the inner courtyard or garden) by the bedroom, or the venereum, where the wind would cause them to tinkle.[5][2] They were also made to ring like doorbells, a series of them being tied to cord attached to a bell pull.[6]

The sounds of bells were believed to keep away evil spirits; compare the apotropaic role of the bell in the "bell, book, and candle" ritual of the earlier Catholic Church.[2][7] It has also been surmised that oscilla hung on hooks along colonnaded porticoes may have comparable evil-warding intents.[8]

Hand-bells have been found in sanctuaries and other settings that indicate their religious usage, and were used at the Temple of Iuppiter Tonans, "Jupiter the Thunderer."[9] Elaborately decorated pendants for tintinnabula occur in Etruscan settings, depicting for example women carding wool, spinning, and weaving.[10] Bells were hung on the necks of domestic animals such as horses and sheep to keep track of the animals, but perhaps also for apotropaic purposes.[11]

A number of examples are part of the Secret Museum collection at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In the Latin of 6th-century Roman Gaul; J.N. Adams, The Regional Diversification of Latin, 200 BC–AD 600 (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 321.
  2. ^ a b c Johns, Catherine (2000), Sex Or Symbol?: Erotic Images of Greece and Rome, Taylor & Francis, pp. 67–68, ISBN 978-0-415-92567-9
  3. ^ Montserrat, Dominic (2013), Huskinson, Janet (ed.), "Reading gender in the Roman world", Experiencing Rome: Culture, Identity and Power in the Roman Empire, Routledge, p. 171, ISBN 9781134693146
  4. ^ Taylor, Rabun (2005), "Roman oscilla: An assessment", ES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (48): 95, ISBN 9780873657662 JSTOR 20167679
  5. ^ Fanin (1871), p. 58.
  6. ^ Deiss, Joseph Jay (1989), Herculaneum, Italy's buried treasure, Getty Publications, p. 38, ISBN 978-0-892-36164-9
  7. ^ "Bronze phallic wind chime (tintinabulum)". Highlights from the British Museum. Archived from the original on 2015-10-18. Retrieved 2017-06-15.
  8. ^ Taylor (2005), pp. 83, 95
  9. ^ Duncan Fishwick, Imperial Cult in the Latin West (Brill, 1990), vol. II.1, pp. 504-5.
  10. ^ Larissa Bonfante, Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies (Wayne State University Press, 1986), p. 252.
  11. ^ Adams, Regional Diversification, p. 321.
  12. ^ Fanin (1871), pp. 58ff

Further reading[edit]

  • Sex or symbol: erotic images of Greece and Rome by Catherine Johns, The British Museum Press (1982) ISBN 0-7141-8042-4
  • Eros in Pompeii: the erotic art collection of the Museum of Naples by Michael Grant, Antonia Mulas, Museo nazionale di Napoli (1997)
  • The Roman cultural revolution by Thomas N. Habinek, Alessandro Schiesaro (1997) p. 171

External links[edit]