A Roman Bronze hand of Sabazios, Roman Imperial Period, ca. 2nd - 3rd century CE
Object No: RB2012
This sculptured bronze right hand is hollow-cast from the Thracian mystery cult of Sabazios which became popular throughout the Roman empire. With the thumb, index and middle finger raised, it is performing the benedictio latina blessing and is covered with various mystical symbology. Here, snakes, whose heads appear between the fingers, intertwine around the wrist and hand with birds and grapes attached to their bodies.
The bronze "Hand of Sabazios", such as this example, were presumably attached to staffs and displayed in processions. This practice was probably introduced into the cult of Sabazios towards the very end of the Hellenistic period or the beginning of the Roman Empire, as indicated by the earliest finds of such hands. However, the gesture existed much earlier, for it is found on Attic black- and red-figured pottery and is often associated with Hermes in his role as instructor and Psychopompos. From the beginning of the Hellenistic period, the gesture was mainly used to indicate speech, the knowledge conveyed through speech and wisdom acquired through the initiations of mystic cults. As the symbols on the hands are often associated with the Underworld, it is proposed the Sabazian mysteries dealt with life after death and the Underworld. The “Hand of Sabazios,” subsequently inspired the “Hand of Benediction” and the “Hand of God” that has permeated Christian art and culture for thousands of years.
Ref: SE Johnson, The Present State of Sabazios Research, ANRW II 17.4 (1984) 1583-1613; R. Fellmann, The Sabazios Cult in: MJ Vermaserern, The Oriental Religions in the Roman Empire (1981) p. 316 ff, Berndt, Susanne. “The Hand Gesture and Symbols of Sabazios.” Opuscula. Annual of the Swedish Institutes at Athens and Rome 11 (n.d.) (2018): 151–68. doi:10.30549/OPATHROM-11-08
Dimensions: Height: 4 3/4 inches (12 cm), Length: 2 1/2 inches (6.35 cm), Width: 1 3/4 inches (4.4 cm)
Condition: With heavy patina, intact and in good condition.
Provenance: Ex S. Rosenbaum-Kroeber Collection, 1960 - 1984, Ascona, Switzerland; thereafter a private German collection, acquired in 1988 and then by descent.
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