Silver Statuette of Harpocrates

Silver statuette of Harpocrates, with gold chain and ring. The god is shown as a chubby Graeco-Roman Cupid with wings and a heavy garland of fruit and leaves crowning his curly head. The left hand is empty, but the right is raised to the chin. A gold chain with a god ring attached to it is knotted around the body, and on the shallow pedestal a dog, a tortoise and a bird are grouped around his feet.

The figure, a naked child with a finger to his mouth, depicts the Egyptian god Horus as a young boy. Horus was the son of the great mother-goddess Isis and Osiris. The cult of Isis spread throughout the Roman Empire, and there is evidence that there was a temple dedicated to her in London.

Bronze statuette of Harpocrates
Bronze statuette of Harpocrates

An Egyptian god as a universal Roman deity

Isis and her son (known to the Romans as Harpocrates) were often depicted with the attributes of other major gods and goddesses, as universal deities. In this statuette, Harpocrates is shown with the wings of Cupid, a vine-wreath and crescent in his hair, and accompanied by a dog and a tortoise. The hawk by his feet is his animal manifestation in Egyptian mythology.

During the Roman period, Harpocrates was often depicted as a young boy with his finger placed over his lips, symbolizing silence and discretion. He was considered a guardian of secrets and a protector against evil forces. In Roman Egypt, Harpocrates was sometimes assimilated with the Greek god Eros, resulting in a fusion of their attributes and symbolism.

Harpocrates was worshipped in various contexts, including private households and temples. His cult was particularly popular among individuals seeking protection, especially in matters related to secrecy, personal relationships, and hidden knowledge.

The statuette is cast in silver, and the gold chain and ring suggest that it may have been worn as an amulet, though it would have been large and heavy for this purpose.

Found in the river Thames in London. Now in the British Museum.