'Hand of Sabazius'

Roman, 2nd or 3rd century AD
Found at Tournai, Belgium

Votive hand decorated with religious symbols

Bronze hands of this kind are associated with the cult of the god Sabazius. His cult originated in Phrygia or Thrace and later became popular in the Roman Empire. The Romans associated him with Dionysus, the god of wine.

Scholars believe that 'hands of Sabazius' were placed in shrines or carried on poles in religious processions. Often they are decorated with images such as a serpent, cymbal, pine cone and frog, which are assumed to be religious.

This example was found at Tournai on the Belgian-French border in the late-sixteenth or early seventeenth century. It was later owned by Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), collector and physician to King George I (reigned 1714-27) and George II (reigned 1727-60). Mead's important collection contained many antiquities and works of art.

At some point a replica of the hand was made and deposited in the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris. There it was engraved and repoduced in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'Antiquité expliquée (1722), an ambitious visual encylopedia of antiquity. Since then the replica in Paris has both been mistaken for the original and, more recently, condemned as a forgery.

Find in the collection online

'Hand of Sabazius'

  • L'Antiquité expliquée

    L'Antiquité expliquée


More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

M.J. Vermaseren, Corpus cultus Iovis Sabazii (C (Leiden, Brill, 1983)

I. Jenkins, 'Dr Richard Mead and his circle' in Enlightening the British: know (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

B. de Montfaucon, LAntiquité expliquée (Paris, 10 vols., 1722 and 5 vols. supplement, 1724)


Height: 15.000 cm

Museum number

GR Bronze 876



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore