Roman brothel token discovered on Thames foreshore
5 January 2012
The first known Roman brothel token to have been discovered in London and most likely Britain, is on temporary display at the Museum of London.
The token or spintria, depicts a man and a woman having sex on one face, and has the Roman numerals XIIII (14) on the other. The lady appears to be lying on a couch on her front and a male figure is positioned behind her.
The item was hit upon by a mudlarker on the Thames foreshore near Putney Bridge, whilst searching with a metal detector. It was then declared to the Museum of London under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (external website). The spintria is roughly the size of a 10 pence piece and may even be the only such token ever found in Britain.
Caroline McDonald, Museum of London Curator, said: “This is the perfect archaeological object. It’s sexy and provocative in the best sense of the word. The lot of a Roman sex slave was not a happy one and objects like this can help the Museum of London provoke debates about issues that are relevant to the modern city and its visitors. Museums should engage with these more grown-up and sometimes less comfortable topics”
The object has been dated, by experts at the Museum of London, to the Roman period and approximately the 1st century AD. There is much debate about the precise use of these Roman spintria although they are widely thought to be brothel tokens, which were exchanged for sex. Other suggested uses have been made, such as gaming tokens. If this item is indeed a brothel token, the reverse numeral may indicate the price of the service shown on the front of the token.
The brothel token is on display at the Museum of London until April 2012.
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