Object Bronze Fox

C/1957/14/9
Bronze Fox
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze (cast)

This bronze fox has clear details of fur all over its body. The fox is couchant, meaning it is lying down with the face lifted up.  It measures 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 2.5 in. (6.4 cm) long, and .75 in. (1.9 cm) wide.  It has an exaggerated tail that widens towards the tip.  There is an incised line down the center of the tail.  The bottom of this statuette is flat except for a small pin sticking down; likely for attachment to something.

Foxes are native to Italy.  They were part of a Roman ritual for Ceres held in the middle of April (many say on the 19th) every year, the Cerealia. The foxes did not survive the ritual.  The festival involved a spectacle in the Circus Maximus where the Romans tied lighted torches to the foxes’ tails and set them lose in the Circus, where they were burned to death. The author Ovid says this ritual comes from an incident when a child had wrapped a vixen in straw and set her on fire. The female fox then ran into a wheat field, setting the crops on fire. The ritual for Ceres was supposed to show the foxes atoning for the burning of the crops. Fox hunts, like hare hunts, are depicted in many places throughout ancient Rome, including mosaic floors.

Also like hares, a fox could be kept as a pet. The aurita lagalopex, likely a long-eared fox, is one example.  The Romans made pets of many kinds of animals, from the exotic (lions) to the tame (dogs). This fox statuette from the Classics Collection is couchant, not running or standing.  It is thus unlikely this fox was meant to depict a fox in the Ceres ritual or in a hunt.  Instead, this may have been a depiction of a native Italian animal or a pet.

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                  from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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