Itsy Bitsy, Teensy Weenies

If you've been following Inspired Antiquity's Instagram for a while, you may have noticed that I occasionally post photos of my collection of little gemstone phalli.  Or, as I prefer to call them, my itsy bitsy, teensy weenies.  

Dicks in a row...

Regardless of modern-day feelings or bias towards my colorful collection  of penises, there is a long (pun intended, naturally) and distinguished history behind the collection and display of these phallic symbols.  It began in Ancient times before religion and societal norms changed peoples' perception of this bit of male anatomy and created an alternate belief system with regards to the view / covering (or not) of human genitalia.

Now, before I delve any further into this topic, and for the sake of fun, let's all agree to assume that every pun you encounter throughout this post is all in good fun and intended.  Well-intended. 😉

So (historically) when did penis worship start, you ask?  If you're a religious person, then personally I blame Adam.  I mean, really, why did he choose to only cover his penis but Eve's got to cover her nipples and vagina?  Do nipples really look that different on men versus women?  Who decided this?  Where are my sociologists and religious studies majors at?  Help a gal out here.  But, if you're one to demand actual historical references then read on 'cause we are about to go on one heck of a ride!  

First stop on our weenie coverage in ancient times is the island of Delos in Greece.  Archaeologists and historians discovered a residence with the inscription "ΤΟΥΤΟ ΕΜΟΙ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΣΟΙ" carved beneath two erect, winged penises.  Translated, the inscription means 'this for me and this for you' and, No, it isn't an invitation.  The phallus-bird in Ancient Greece was a symbol of good fortune carved into homes and business to protect people and ward off evil.  This plaque and inscription was designed as a welcome to guests to protect not only the homeowner and his/her family but also those entering and leaving.  Thus, the wings.  In Ancient Greece, these phallic symbols were most often associated with the god, Dionysus.

My personal favorite are the ones who are hand-carved.

Most frequently thought of as the God of Wine and Ecstasy, Dionysus was actually the God of Fruitfulness and Vegetation.  The Ancient Greeks worshiped him to ensure a fruitful grape harvest thereby ensuring successful wine-making.  Perhaps more commonly known by his Ancient Roman incarnation as Bacchus; he was also considered the God of Fertility and women often sought his favor for successful procreation.  According to Claudia Moser (a Mellon Research Fellow) in her University of Pennsylvania undergraduate humanities Forum 2005-6 research presentation called, Naked Power: The Phallus as an Apotropaic Symbol in the Images and Texts of Roman Italy, “Representations of the phallus abound in both the art and the literature of the first-century A.D. Roman world. On frescoes in both private homes and public buildings, on amulets, statues, etchings, tripods, drinking cups and vases, exaggerated phallic images, these purportedly apotropaic symbols protect the inhabitant, the passerby, the wearer, the user from outside evil.  The contemporary Latin literature, Roman satire and elegy in particular (Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Tibullus), and the Priapea, a collection of poems about the phallic god Priapus, offer descriptions of the phallus and its functions that both coincide with and differ from the material examples.”  Basically, size matters - the bigger the better.

Example of an ancient winged phallus.

Children wore teensy weenies around their neck; they were on reliefs; decorated lamps; amulets; religious symbols; dishes and were even a common theme for men and women’s jewelry.  Most phallic amulets weren’t on buildings but worn by people and animals.  There have been hundreds of phallic pendants from Roman Britain recorded and they have been found all over the island.  The rarest are made from gold but the vast majority are copper alloys.  I mean, who doesn't want a solid gold dick?!

The phallus was a partial detachment from sexuality.  Pompeii, Italy is one of the best places to see the range and number of these carvings. There are many, many phallic carvings throughout the ancient town.  More so than anywhere else in the Roman world.  This is because the destruction of Pompeii preserved buildings and streets to a great height – it seems that most of these carvings were above human head-height and prominently visible.  


From the Naples National Museum of Archeology, ancient carved penises mounted in homes to ensure fertility.

While for us here in modern times, the erect phallus almost always evokes an association of sex, in ancient Rome the range of its meanings was much broader.  The phallus was a very important and lucky symbol.  Some of them were embellished with a lion’s paw, bird’s head or, as previously discussed - wings.  As with many forms of artistic expression, the Roman world inherited the use of phallic symbols from their Hellenistic and Classical forebears, but in the case of phallic imagery they really ran with it and stroked their creative side by creating interesting and sometimes bizarre new types, forms and uses for this symbol.  Additionally, the Romans and Greeks weren’t the only people who used the phallus to decorate their cities.  The phallus was popular amongst the ancient Egyptians, Semitic Arabs and Hebrews.  The custom of swearing on their own crotch was commonplace.  Most often, the person who made the oath held his own crotch.  Have you ever observed any professional athletic event?  Count the crotch grabs - I dare you.

What's your favorite gemstone?

The worship of this symbol was even mentioned by Augustine from the turn of the 4th and 5th Centuries CE, when the Roman Empire was largely Christian.  The priest reluctantly described the annual village phallic rites taking place in Italy.  According to his account, the image of a member was placed in a cart and transported around the villages and then triumphantly entered the city with him, before being decorated with flowers.  Throughout the journey, vulgar vocabulary was used and the celebrators showed immense sexual freedom.  It was also customary to bury wooden phalluses in the ground, which was also done by the Christians themselves.  Sometimes, in order to live in harmony with the commandments of Christ’s faith, phalluses with the signs of the cross were buried.


An assortment of ancient lucky phalli.

In Roman Britain, at the edge of the Roman Empire, phallic carvings were present.  Strongly associated with military structures such as forts and fortresses; they can even be found on Hadrian’s Wall - the very edge of the Roman world, beyond which many dangers lay.  Phallic carvings appear on parts of the Wall itself, facing outwards towards barbaricum, as well as on the same sorts of windows and doors as in Pompeii.

While we might now only associate the four-leaf clover, evil eye, a found penny or rabbit's foot with luck; one of the most ancient lucky symbols was a good ol' tall penis.  Worn upright and proudly throughout the ancient world, the phallus was thought to protect its wearer.  What could be a more noble use of a little weenie than that?!  So get out there and get yourself a collection of rock hard, lucky itsy bitsy teensy weenies! 😄

A rainbow collection of gemstone phallus.

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