“Token” with a sexual scene

These small bronze pieces resembling coins, although slightly smaller, with a representation of a scene of a sexual nature on one of its sides and a numeral on the other, receive the name of spintriae. It would seem that these tokens began to circulate throughout the Roman Empire from the time of the 1st century AD on, and that they depicted a total of sixteen different sexual postures.

In the case of the piece in question, a circular stamp can be seen on the front showing two naked figures standing and in profile facing to the left. The figure on the left appears to be reclining on a manner of altar, while the winged figure on the right is penetrating the former from behind. The reverse side shows a solar wheel divided into eight segments. Given the small size of the piece it is extremely difficult to recognise the protagonists. One could possibly be Eros, the son of Aphrodite and facilitator of sexual encounters, who was generally represented naked and with wings. While he was not generally the protagonist of amorous encounters such as this one, some coins have been conserved with this figure or similar ones (erotes), where they are practising diverse sexual postures as seen on the spintriae (bronze of Caracalla from Serdica, 197-217 AD, spintria found at Pompeii).

As ancient authors do not mention the existence of pieces such as this one, archaeologists have suggested that these bronzes were used as common currency in brothels: they would be given to prostitutes as a form of payment specifying the service required, as most of the prostitutes were foreigners and communication in language was a problem. Other specialists, in contrast, suppose that the number on the reverse side made reference to the price of the service. However, spintriae have been found where the same sexual scene is depicted but with distinct numerals, thus putting in doubt the theory that this is some sort of code. Other scholars are sure that this is part of a game, and on some pieces, the numeral is not present at all (Thailen, Saarland, s/n).


- BATESON, J.D. “Roman Spintriae in The Hunter Coin Cabinet”, Glaux, 7. 1991. pp. 385-94.
- BUTTREY, T.V. “The Spintriae as a Historical Source”, Numismatic Chronicle, 13. 1973. pp. 52-63.
- FISHBURN, G ”Is that a Spintria in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”, Regarding the Past. 2007. pp. 225-236.
- SIMONETTA, B. y RIVA, R. Le tessere erotiche romane (spintriae). Quando ed a che scopo sono state coniate. Lugano. Gaggini-Bizzozero.
- VITALE, E. “Lasciva Numismata”, Numismatica, 7. 1941. pp. 81-83.

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