Rare two thousand year old phallic carving 'of Roman virility' found on Cambridgeshire road

The team examining the finds unearthed on Britain’s biggest roads project had a surprise when they found one millstone engraved with an enhanced phallus.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 11:25 am
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 11:26 am
Dr Ruth Shaffrey with the millstone, only one of four such carvings ever found on these millstones

More than 300 querns (hand mills) and millstones were recovered during archaeological work on Highways England’s £1.5 billion A14 upgrade between Cambridge and Huntingdon in 2017 and 2018, but this find was only recently pieced together by archaeologists MOLA Headland Infrastructure.

The archaeologists and their partners, Oxford Archaeology, discovered two crosses inscribed on the circumference of the quern, and a different type of carving on its upper face. The millstone had been broken during its use and was then adapted, which preserved the carvings as it was then reversed to be used as a saddle quern, one of the bedstones used in the grinding process, hiding the genital carving.

Decorated querns and millstones of any date are extremely rare, with only four such Roman millstones discovered from around a total of 20,000 nationwide. While crosses on such stones are more prevalent, these tend to be found only at military sites.

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Steve Sherlock, Highways England’s Archaeology Lead for the A14, said: “This millstone is important as it adds to the evidence for such images from Roman Britain. There were known associations between images of the phallus and milling, such as those found above the bakeries of Pompeii, one inscribed with ‘Hic habitat felicitas’ – ‘You will find happiness here’.

“The phallus was seen as an important image of strength and virility in the Roman world, with it being common practice for legionaries to wear a phallus amulet, which would give them good luck before battle.”

Dr Ruth Shaffrey, from Oxford Archaeology, added: "As one of only four known examples of Romano-British millstones decorated this way, the A14 millstone is a highly significant find. It offers insights into the importance of the mill to the local community and to the protective properties bestowed upon the millstone and its produce (the flour) by the depiction of a phallus on its upper surface."

Highways England’s trailblazing archaeological work on the A14 has already unearthed woolly mammoth tusks and woolly rhino skulls, the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain, dating back to as early as 400 BC, and only the second gold coin to be found in the country depicting Roman emperor Laelianus, who reigned for about two months in 269 AD before he was killed.