Incorrect Username, Email, or Password
This object does not yet have a description.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Votive Terracotta Scrotum
Work Type
3rd-1st century BCE
Hellenistic period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

5.9 x 4.1 x 2.8 cm

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Gift of Pfeiffer-Hartwell Collection
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.


Votive terracotta scrotum. Reddish clay, porous, with gritty black impurities. Most likely from a sanctuary votive deposit in Etruria (central Italy). Such terracotta scrota may have been given either as a request or as an offering of thanks for fertility or more broadly for the well-being of offspring. The representation of testicles in isolation from the penis is confined to the large sanctuaries of Vulci, Veii, Fregellae, and Rome.

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.

Verification Level

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