Height: 23.000 cm
Bronze rattle (sistrum)
Roman, 1st-2nd centuries AD
Found in or near Rome, Italy
Rattles such as this were usually made of bronze, but sometimes of silver. They were used in religious ceremonies and rituals, and were particularly associated with the worship of Egyptian goddess Isis. The seated cat on top of the rattle seems to confirm this connection; the cat was an important element of religious imagery in ancient Egypt. At the base of the frame of the rattle, below the rattling bars, are small images of a phallus and a pine-cone, symbols of fertility and good fortune.
Rome's conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, following the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, helped spread the cult of the goddess throughout the Mediterranean and the rest of the Roman world. Temples to Isis were built in every major city, perhaps the largest and most richly decorated being in Rome, near the Pantheon. The best-preserved temple of Isis was found in Pompeii, where the sacrifices and the priests' meals were found in situ when it was excavated. The temple and its surrounding porticoes were decorated with beautiful wall paintings, some of which show priests or attendants of Isis holding a sistrum identical to this example.
Similar rattles are used in the rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to this day.