Roman Figurine, Fressingfield

Roman figurine front back and sides

An incomplete copper-alloy Roman figurine of the god Mercury from the Fressingfield area, dating c. 43-410 AD.

The figurine survives almost entirely complete, with only its head missing in an old break. We can identify this figure as Mercury due to the objects he is carrying. In his left hand he holds a caduceus (the symbolic ‘wand’ indicating his office as an official herald or messenger), a short, winged staff around which are curled two snakes. In his right hand he holds a money purse, an allusion to his associations with both money and its acquisition.

The figurine is realistically depicted, his slightly flexed posture gives a sense of movement and the folds in his garment rendered with a high level of detail. Interestingly, this depiction of Mercury differs from most others known from Britain, as in the majority of cases he wears either nothing or only a paenula (short cloak) draped over one shoulder. The Fressingfield figurine, by contrast, depicts him wearing a short toga or tunic that covers almost the entire body.

No fixing points are visible on the underside of the feet, though the object is not free standing, inferring that it was intended to be leant against something to remain upright. Items such as this could have been mass produced and sold at temple sites or shrines, either as souvenirs to visitors or alternatively as objects to purchase for dedication in the religious complex itself. Conversely, some may have been retained and used regularly in religious activities within a domestic setting. Only around twenty-five to thirty other figurines depicting Mercury have been recorded by the national Portable Antiquities Scheme, making these sorts of objects quite uncommon.

In Roman religion, Mercury was a member of the Dii Consentes, one of the twelve highest-ranking deities within the pantheon of gods and goddesses which included Jupiter, Juno, Venus, Mars and Minerva, amongst others. Each deity was thought to look over, protect and effectively act as a ‘patron saint’ to certain groups of people and character attributes. In the case of Mercury, this included protection of merchants, travellers, gamblers, shepherds, liars, thieves, and the overall guardian of luck, financial gain, commerce and poetry. He also fulfilled two other roles in addition to the latter, being both official messenger of the gods and guiding dead souls to Hades, the Roman afterlife.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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