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Roman moneyboxes

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A terracotta piggy bank from Priene
A terracotta piggy bank from Priene

Almost every child learned the difficult art of saving on the example of piggy banks. They come in various shapes and sizes – the best-known one is the honest “piggy bank”.

The oldest specimen found is from the Greek city of Priene, around 200 BCE. It was probably intended for temple donations. It is a pediment-shaped ceramic container with columns supporting a triangular abutment, with a slot for inserting coins. There is a hole in the back that was probably used to withdraw donations. Currently, it is housed in the State Museum in Berlin. A similar object, but less carefully made, can be seen in the museum in Athens.

Piggy banks, apart from private use, also played an important role in religious life. They were used as containers for donations donated by the faithful. They were called thesaurus or loculus.

Sometimes they took the form of elaborate constructions which for “payment” dosed water for the ritual washing of the body or cult objects. The author of such “machinery” was an Alexandrian inventor from the turn of the 2nd/1st century BCE – Heron.

Although they were made of very brittle material – usually clay or terracotta – quite a large number of them have survived. In the collection of the Institute of Archeology of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, we have an example of a very well-preserved piggy bank of this type. It is around bell-shaped clay vessel (olla, aulla) and comes from the collection of hr. Józef Wodzicki. It was found in 1871 during an excavation in Rome. At that time, numerous excavations were carried out on Esquiline, where many interesting artefacts were found, including another piggy bank, located in the collection of the Museo delle Terme. It is accepted as a piggy bank from the Krakow collection and comes from the Esquiline site.

In addition to clay piggy banks, at the beginning of the 20th century, the German researcher Hans Graeven distinguished several other groups of this type of monuments:

  • rectangular boxes (arculae) with a cut-out hole in the top wall of the container. They were often decorated with ritual figural or floral ornaments
  • flat oval-shaped containers resembling oil lamps, decorated in the upper surface with a relief medallion with the image of Mercury or Fortune. The artist’s or workshop’s mark was often placed on the bottom.
  • moneyboxes of the omphaloid type – cylindrical containers with a dome resembling a beehive at the top. They were often decorated on the front with a temple pediment with the image of Mercury or Fortune. On the back wall, there was a sign of the workshop where the piggy bank was made.

Currently, piggy banks are purely decorative or children’s toys. However, you can often find containers in bars and pubs where we throw tips in the form of coins.

Author: Roger Rytter (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Joachim Śliwa (red.), Egipt, Grecja, Italia zabytki starożytne z dawnej kolekcji Gabinetu Archeologicznego Uniwersytetu Jagielońskigo
  • The photos are also from this book.

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