A figured handle depicting a bearded hunter-god has recently been reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Yorkshire, UK. It was found at Goldsborough near Knaresborough, and has the museum number ‘yorym : E03106’. The handle shares some of the distinguishing features of wax spatula handles of A5 type (Feugère 1995, fig 1). The upper part of the figure is full-round, but it tapers to a narrow rectangular section at the base, which is in the form of a split socket retaining the remains of a thin iron blade (Fig 1).

Hunter-god handle front
Figure 1. Hunter-god handle front

The figure shows a naked bearded male with his right arm (partly missing) reaching over his shoulder to a quiver passing diagonally across his back. His damaged left arm is reaching forward and would have held a bow. The upper part of the socket has a band of decoration, a line of ring-and-dots flanked by cabled mouldings, and there is another ring-and-dot on his chest.

The angle and form of the quiver precisely matches that carried by the stone statue of a hunter-god from London, who is also carrying a bow in his left hand and reaching behind him for an arrow (Merrifield 1986, figs 1-3). Also from London is an altar with a relief on one face of a hunter in the same position, originally identified as representing Diana (Toynbee 1962, 152, no 64, pl 68), but shown by Merrifield to be a male, and a third figure from London may also be a hunter-god rather than Attis as previously thought (ibid, 87-89).

Hunter-god handle front
Figure 1. Hunter-god handle front

The Yorkshire handle was fitted with an iron blade, which does not appear to have been of triangular section like a knife blade, but of thin rectangular section like that of wax spatulae. However, unlike the splayed sockets of A5 spatula handles, this is straight-sided, suggesting that the blade was also straight. The handle may therefore be all that remains of a new form of spatula, perhaps more like Feugère’s Type C in size.

Bearing in mind the precise suitability of Minerva as a deity to appear on the handles of wax spatulae (Feugère 1995, 332), a similarly appropriate iconography might be expected to pertain here. However, a link between the hunter-god and any form of writing is not immediately obvious, though there are links between hunting and healing (Green 1997, 160-1). As wax was used not only on writing tablets but also for salves and other medicinal preparations, it is worth considering the possibility that the narrower tool represented by this handle was a piece of medical equipment.

Nina Crummy
2 Hall Road
Colchester CO6 1BN

Simon Holmes
Finds Liaison Officer,
Yorkshire Museum,
Museum Gardens,
York YO1 7FR


We are grateful to the finder for reporting this item under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and to Ralph Jackson, British Museum, who identified it as representing a hunter-god.


Feugère, M, 1995, ‘Les spatules à cire à manche figuré’, in W Czysz et al (eds), Provinzialrömische Forschungen. Festschrift für Günter Ulbert zum 65 Geburtstag, 321- 38 (Munich)

Green, M, 1997, The gods of the Celts (Stroud)

Merrifield, R, 1986, ‘The London Hunter-god’, in M Henig & A. King, Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire, 85-92 (Oxford)

Toynbee, J M C 1962, Art in Roman Britain (London)