Hand of Sabazius

By
Laura Hutchison
Laura Hutchison is a student in the Interdepartmental Ph.D. Program in Classical Art and Archaeology at Hopkins. Her research interests include Greek and Roman religion, the human form in ancient art, and modern issues in illicit trade of antiquities. She was excited and grateful to work so closely with ancient objects in preparation for The Roman House at Hopkins.

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  • Accession Number: JHUAM 778
  • Measurements: Height: 5.6cm, Width: 2cm
  • Material: Copper alloy
  • Culture/Date: Roman, 1st-2nd c. CE
  • Provenance: Syria or Anatolia?

 

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Back view.

The Hand of Sabazius in our museum’s collection offers a rare glimpse into Roman appropriation of foreign religious cults. Sabazius, a deity often attributed to Thracian or Phrygian cultures, was sometimes symbolized by an apotropaic hand. On this piece, a small turtle and a ram’s head adorn the hand’s palm, while a three-headed serpent extends across the back. Another serpent curls around the wrist and up along the side of the hand, forming the tip of the thumb with its head. Larger examples of the Hand of Sabazius exist in a number of museums, including the Walters Art Museum and the British Museum. Larger examples of the Hand of Sabazius often bear a pinecone on the tip of the snake-nose “thumb,” and occasionally a miniature Sabazius cradled between the palm and fingers. The Hopkins hand is unique in its small scale, and was likely carried on the person or set into a sacred space, perhaps a lararium.

Cf. Walters Art Museum 54.2453; British Museum GR Bronze 876