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On a knife-edge: an image of sex and spectacle from Roman north-west Europe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUn-Roman Sex: Gender, Sexuality, and Lovemaking in the Roman Provinces and Frontiers
EditorsRob Collins, Tatiana Ivleva
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)978-1138284029
ISBN (Print)1138284025
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

King's Authors


This chapter discusses a little-known image of sex from antiquity, an acrobatic sexual act involving three individuals, modelled as a miniature three-dimensional group on Roman-period knife handles found in Britain and Gaul. The scene is not derived from known Roman images of sex and may portray a theatrical show or similar spectacle. After describing the scene and considering its genesis, the author considers how the image was understood and experienced by contemporaries as a dynamic object, potentially embodying literary cultivation, spectacle partisanship, normative sexuality, and, in its incongruities, talismanic protection.

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