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Middle finger in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Sculpture with fingers
Sculpture with a finger

Middle finger is known around the world as an offensive gesture and is considered indecent. As it turns out, this gesture was also known in ancient Rome.

The middle finger was referred to in Latin digitus impudicus, meaning “shameless, indecent or offensive finger”. Why such an understanding? Mainly due to the shape of the hand, which resembles a phallus from the front (middle finger) with testicles on the sides (curled fingers).

Its use is described, among others Martial, in one of his songs; namely, a certain figure appears in good health and straightens the “indecent [finger]” towards three doctors (Epigrammata VI.70.5).

In late antiquity, Isidore of Seville in his work Etymologiae reports that the middle finger was used when accusing someone of “shameful action”.

  • “Digitus impudicus”, “the impudent finger”, "Antiquitatem"

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