Dyonisos herm

The herm is a Greek creation whose origins go back to the 6th century BC. It was a pillar, usually square in cross-section, sculpted from stone. A bust of the god Hermes – thus the name of the pillar – usually stood on the top of this. An erect phallus, a symbol of fertility, but also of defence and prevention, was carved on the front of the pillar. However, other theories claim that the first herm in reality represented Dionysus, god of fertility and nature, in his original form.

A herm (Greek plural- hermai) was placed in rural areas to mark and demarcate roads as well as the limits of properties. In cities it was usual to find them outside houses along with figures of the goddess Hecate, protector of crossroads. In antiquity it was believed that in border areas, places of transit also called liminal areas, malign spirits lived who could decide the destiny of anyone who dared to cross over. That is why all types of beliefs were common as well as amulets to protect travellers and traders.

The antropopaic qualities of the herms, that is, the power they had to ward off harm or the evil influences of spirits, adversaries or enemies, favoured the maintaining of the archaic style of these pillars which characterised the earliest-known examples. While the hermai, as a sculptural typology, evolved from the representation of the god Hermes to permit the addition of other divinities and representations of illustrious men, it can be affirmed that an attempt was made to maintain the primitive style. In the Roman epoch the hermai lost their original sense when they were introduced into the gardens of the great domus merely with an aesthetic function as a simple evocation of classical Hellenism. On occasions, however, the sexual organs were still sculpted on the front of the pillar in reminiscence of the archaic relationship with the cult of fertility.


- GOLDMAN, H. The origin of Greek Herm, American Journal of Archaeology 47, pp. 58-68. 1942.
- LULLIES, R. Die Typen der griechischen Herme. Königsberg. 1931.
- SCHRÖDER, S. F. Catálogo de la escultura clásica, Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid. 2004.

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