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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Votive Terracotta Penis and Scrotum
Work Type
3rd century BCE-1st century CE
Creation Place: Middle East, Levant
Hellenistic period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Terracotta with red slip
15 x 8 x 9 cm (5 7/8 x 3 1/8 x 3 9/16 in.)
Said to have been purchased in Jerusalem in 1935.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of David and Genevieve Hendin
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Mold made model of male genitalia of pinkish clay with coarse temper. The back side is hollow. Penis is uncircumcised. The right testicle hangs lower than the left. The surface is marked by veins in relief. Tip of penis broken off.

Pinkish-red slip in places.

Most likely from a sanctuary votive deposit in Etruria (central Italy). Such terracotta male genitalia may have been given either as a request or as an offering of thanks for healing related to the common condition of phimosis or for the onset of puberty. Romans also frequently depicted the phallus to represent fertility, luck, and protection.

The practice of creating and dedicating anatomical renderings as votive offerings was widespread in ancient Etruria and Latium, evident from the seventh century BCE onward and most popular in the Hellenistic period (3rd–1st centuries BCE). A variety of body parts were depicted, from whole and half heads, to arms and legs, hands and feet, and fingers and toes, to eyes and ears, female and male genitalia, and breasts, to internal organs, including the uterus, heart, and bladder. Anatomical votives have been found exclusively at sanctuaries, spread over some 300 sites in the Etrusco-Italic region. Similar votives appear also in Greek sanctuaries, though in the shrines of very few gods (e.g., Asklepios), whereas a wide range of the gods worshipped in Etruria and Latium received anatomical votives.

Because very few Etruscan anatomical votives include dedicatory inscriptions, it is uncertain whether they were offered to a god according to a vow (ex voto) to give thanks after a wish had been fulfilled or to encourage the god’s participation in granting a request or prayer. In either case, votives appear to have been offered by individuals as part of a ritual, with considerable numbers of such votives found at or near sanctuary altars and most found grouped in secondary deposits (presumably to make room for new offerings). In the absence of dedicatory inscriptions, the meaning of these anatomical votives is debated. They may have been given more literally for the protection or cure of certain body parts and their capabilities, or they may have represented something more figurative (e.g., ears signifying being heard by the god, eyes as being seen, or hands expressing persistent prayer).

For further reading, see:
Matthias Recke, “Science as Art: Etruscan Anatomical Votives,” in The Etruscan World, ed. Jean MacIntosh Turfa (London: Routledge, 2013), 1068–85.

Matthias Recke and Waltrud Wamser-Krasznai, Kultische Anatomie: Etruskische Körperteil-Votive aus der Antikensammlung der Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen (Stiftung Ludwig Stieda) (Ingolstadt: Deutsches Medizinhistorisches Museum, 2008).

Jean MacIntosh Turfa, “Anatomical Votives,” in Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (ThesCRA), vol. 1, Processions – Sacrifices – Libations – Fumigations – Dedications (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004), 359–68.
Exhibition History

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/17/2017 - 01/07/2018

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at