Roman-era object discovered in 1992 was actually ancient dildo, experts believe

The lifesize wooden phallus (Newcastle University)
The lifesize wooden phallus (Newcastle University)

Archaeologists believe a phallic artefact initially believed to have been a good luck symbol is in fact the first Roman sex toy discovered on British soil.

The smooth, wooden object discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda may have been used as an ancient marital aid rather than as a darning tool, pestle or statuel as previously believed.

The well-preserved 16cm long phallus was discovered just south of Hadrian’s Wall hidden among dozens of shoes and dress accessories that were discarded in the 2nd century fort ditch.

But experts now think the 2,000 year-old object may have been used for more than warding off evil after analysis suggested that both ends were noticeably smoother, “indicating repeated contact over time” and it had been stored inside.

A new exhibition featuring a collection of Hadrian’s Wall’s oldest souvenirs has gone on display in Northumberland (PA Archive)
A new exhibition featuring a collection of Hadrian’s Wall’s oldest souvenirs has gone on display in Northumberland (PA Archive)

Other more banal possibilities are the phallus may have been used as a pestle – either for herbs and spices or medicines - or could have formed part of a statue which passers-by would touch for good luck - a practice common in the Roman empire.

Classical paintings and mosaics depict sex toys being popular in the ancient world but now researchers claim the object to be the first known example of a disembodied phallus made of wood recovered anywhere in the Roman world.


Dr Rob Collins, Senior Lecturer, Archaeology, Newcastle University, said: “The size of the phallus and the fact that it was carved from wood raises a number of questions to its use in antiquity.

“We cannot be certain of its intended use, in contrast to most other phallic objects that make symbolic use of that shape for a clear function, like a good luck charm.

“We know that the ancient Romans and Greeks used sexual implements – this object from Vindolanda could be an example of one.”

Dr Rob Sands, Lecturer in Archaeology, University College Dublin, said: “Wooden objects would have been commonplace in the ancient world, but only survive in very particular conditions – in northern Europe normally in dark, damp, and oxygen free deposits.

“So, the Vindolanda phallus is an extremely rare survival. It survived for nearly 2,000 years to be recovered by the Vindolanda Trust because preservation conditions have so far remained stable.

“However, climate change and altering water tables mean that the survival of objects like this are under ever increasing threat.”

The phallus is now on display in the Vindolanda museum.