LIN-536F87: Copper alloy Roman knife handle

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: Lincolnshire County Council
CC License:

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Unique ID: LIN-536F87

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Elaborate erotic copper alloy knife handle. The handle has a hollow openwork rectangular frame with two rivet holes at the terminal to secure the blade. There are four incised bands above leading into an openwork rectangular frame. The frame terminates at the top with a three-dimesional erotic scene comprising an adult male on the right, and adult female in the centre, and a younger male on the shoulders of the female on the far left.

The scene depicts a male figure on the right standing on a small ledge. The ledge protrudes from the inside of the frame on the left side. The male leans backwards and sits against the frame on the right side. His upper body and shoulders and turned so that he is facing outwards. He has incised oval eyes, a triangular nose and a worn incised mouth. His ears are indicated by small mouldings at the side of the head. The head is flat topped with a straight hairline across the forehead, shown by a series of vertically incised lines. The female in the centre leans on the back of the younger male on the far left, and is shown sitting upwards being held up by the male on the right. The left arm of the male supports the underside of the females right leg just as his right arms supports the left leg on the reverse. The right hand male's penis and testicles are clearly shown beneath the sitting female, and it appears that the penis is directed towards the figure on the far left rather than the female in the centre. The arms of the female are directed backwards grasping the younger male around his waist. The females breasts are clearly shown and she too has her head turned so that it is facing outwards; she faces the opposite direction to the adult male. It is unclear whether the female is naked or whether she is wearing a short dress which ties around the neck. There is a band around her neck and there is also a short moulded line visible just above the line of the hips, suggesting the neckline and hem of the dress respectively. It is also possible that the female is in fact naked, and that the line around the neck is either a torc or a rope. The female has incised oval eyes and a flat hairline just like the male on the left and the right; the only difference is that both males have a flat head whereas the female has a rounded head. The figure on the far left is that of a smaller or younger male. His sits on top of the left hand side frame leaning with his back against the female. His head is turned outwards to face the same direction as the female. His facial features are identical to the other two figures; the eyes are two incised ovals with a flat hairline. The younger figures arms are shown grasping a severed human head. The head again has incised oval eyes and a flat hairline. The top of the severed head is rounded. It is unclear whether the severed head is from a male or a female. The penis and testicles of the younger figure are shown moulded below the head. The knife handle has an even mid-green patina and is in a good state of preservation apart from patches of wear and surface pitting. There are no indications of active corrosion. Only a small number of erotic knife handles are known from the UK. The workmanship in all cases is 'indifferent', 'crude', or 'provincial', and it is quite possible that they were made in Britain.

The author knows of no other continental parallels at the time of writing. Examples from the UK come from St Albans, Suffolk (recorded on the PAS database as SF-A23522), Verulamium theatre and finally Lambourn in Berkshire. The St Albans knife handle was a residual find excavated from 4th century dark soil. One other example is known however it has no provenance. With no slot and two rivets the handle was clearly not for a folding knife unlike the majority of known erotic knife handles. Unfortunately the only other example of a fixed blade handle was seen on the antiquities market with no provenance. All of the known erotic knife handles are variations on 'the theme of three' rather than being identical. They generally show sexual intercourse between a man and a woman with another crouched or flexed figure with his back to the woman and supporting her. There are two notable features on the Syston knife handle - the severed head and the gaze of the figures. So far the Syston example is the first example known to depict a severed head. The younger figure on the other examples either is shown holding nothing, or is shown holding an oversized penis.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by a museum - not a Treasure case


Broad period: ROMAN
Subperiod from: Early
Period from: ROMAN
Subperiod to: Late
Period to: ROMAN
Date from: Circa AD 43
Date to: Circa AD 410

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 64 mm
Width: 31 mm
Diameter: 7 mm

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Dr Adam Daubney
Identified by: Dr Adam Daubney

Materials and construction

Primary material: Copper alloy
Manufacture method: Cast

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Lincolnshire (County)
District: South Kesteven (District)
Parish or ward: Syston (Civil Parish)

Spatial coordinates

4 Figure: SK9240
Four figure Latitude: 52.94950474
Four figure longitude: -0.63217286
1:25K map: SK9240
1:10K map: SK94SW
Grid reference source: From a paper map
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: LIN
Created: 11 years ago
Updated: 4 years ago

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