There’s an outside chance that this “unique Roman artifact” discovered at the fort of Vindolanda (Britain) is 100% definitely a 1,900-year-old sex toy.
Here, therefore, we assess this uniquely preserved object—currently the only known example of a non-miniaturised, disembodied carved wooden phallus from the Roman world. Combining current theories about the role of phallic representations with consideration of the size and form of the object, and potential use-wear, we propose three possible explanations for its use and significance at Vindolanda in the second century AD and reflect on its broader significance for studies of Roman sexuality and magic.
The researchers offer some thoughts about “usage”:
Repeated use of wooden objects can damage or smooth their surfaces, depending on the intensity and frequency of handling and/or the time over which they were used. …
Tactile examination of the Vindolanda phallus reveals that the convex base end is smooth, which we attribute to intentional shaping during manufacture and/or exposure to repeated contact through use. A zone approximately 40mm in length along the underside and lateral faces of the shaft and an area 30–40mm long at the tip (upper shaft, glans and area behind it) were also notably smoother than other surface areas, possibly indicating repeated contact (Figure 7). The greater wear of the convex end and sides of the cylindrical base and the glans terminal may be significant for interpretation of the object’s function. Put simply, assuming such wear was caused by use, the phallus has perceptibly greater wear at either end compared with its middle.
The researchers consider several potential uses for the phallus before they get to the answer everyone wants to know: is it a sex toy?
Demonstrating that the Vindolanda phallus was used as a sexual implement is challenging. Although it explicitly imitates the anatomical form of a penis, modern implements are morphologically more diverse than human physiology; form alone is therefore not indicative. Nor does the size of the Vindolanda phallus preclude its use in this manner. Lubricants may be expected, but neither these nor human secretions are likely to survive archaeologically. Exactly how use-wear might manifest on an object of this type is also unclear and variations in use may be a factor. Research points to different perceptions, attitudes and uses of modern dildos across different genders and sexual orientations. In this regard, if the Vindolanda phallus functioned as a dildo, it need not necessarily have been used for penetration. Instead, actions such as clitoral stimulation might better fit the form and wear observed. Different modes of use, presumably, produce differential wear, but no definitive research exists, to our knowledge, that demonstrates this. Comparison of wear patterns on the Vindolanda wooden phallus with known examples of dildos is also difficult. The greater wear observed on the glans and upper shaft on the Vindolanda phallus compares favourably with the eighteenth-century ivory example noted above, in which differential surface colour and smoothing can be observed, even on photographs. Similarly, greater wear of the glans is observable on a stone double-dildo of the Sui dynasty (AD 581–618) in China, with double-dildos in Chinese historical texts typically described as made of ivory or wood for use in lesbian sexual acts.
And since I know you’re wondering, here’s the Ivory dildo, possibly French, 1701-1800; the wear near the head is clearly visible.
As we’ve written before, history is filled with people just like us.