A Roman Drunk in Danish Soil

A new Roman find have just been published from The National Museum of Denmark, by Curator Peter Pentz. The find of a small Roman bronze Silenus was found by metal detector at the isle of Falster, south of Zealand. It was also on Falster the rich Roman Hoby Hoard was found in 1920.


The bronze Silenus, likely from early 1st. cent. AD, is only 4,5 cm high, and probably originates from a Fulcrum – a roman Headstand – used on a ”Cline” – a roman couch.

The Greek Silenus was a fat, ugly, wild bearded and balled drunk. He was originally the teacher of Dionysos.  In Roman art he is often depicted in the company of Bacchus – the Roman equivalent to Dionysos and with satyrs and other hardcore party crashers. He is normally depicted as extremely drunk, beeing carried around by the satyrs or a donkey.

Even though Silenus was a drunk, he was also considered a very wise guy. A legend tells that Silenus was asked by King Midas; ”What is man's highest happiness?” Silenus answered;” It is, not to be born. And if you are born, to die”.  This pessimistic wisdom is later found by philosophers like Schopenhauer, Nietzche and Heine.

That the Romans connected Silenus with drinking and the ”wisdom” that comes from drinking, is the reason why Silenus is often found on furniture and art from the ”Triclinium”– the dining room.  The word ”triclinium” literary means ”three couches” - or beds called a ”Cline” - from the way these were normally placed around a table. The Silenus was a common part of the decorations of the ”Fulcrum” – the headstand that was placed at each end of the Cline.

How this small bronze came to Denmark is impossible to say. As a amateur detector find, we have no chance of knowing if it was still a part of a Fulcrum or it layed alone.

In Haltern in Germany, later escavations from a Roman military burial ground in connection with the Roman Camps at Lippe, has found that it was a common custom, at roman officers burials, to lay the bodies on a Cline. Here several Silenus bronzes like the Danish, has been found.

Is the Danish Silenus a part of a roman couch used here, either for the living or the dead?

In later years, several parts of Roman furniture has been found in Denmark. And Danish finds show that local chieftains here, could live an even ”very roman” way of life.

Also, in later decades, archaeology has been more aware of ”romanlike” burial customs outside the Roman Empire, in the Babaricum. A burial, where the dead was buried in his bed, has been found.

But this is all speculations, We know nothing about the reasons why the Silenus came to Denmark. Most likely the Silenus reached the Danish shores as a curiosa – maybe through trade or as a gift, Curator Peter Pentz from The National Museum of Denmark concludes.


The Drunken Silenus beeing carried by his friends. A mosaic from Ej Djem in Tunesia.