The Cockheaded Man

There are probably one or two jokes I could make about this title, but I will leave you to your own imaginations instead. I am sure that women might have a different take on it than men. Interpretations are in the eye of the beholder.

The Cock-headed Man
The Cockheaded Man

So who or what was this cockheaded man on a mosaic in Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight? There are no other images quite like it in extant Roman mosaics, so no one really knows quite to make of it.

The signs at Brading suggest the mosaic might have been a satire of the mid-third century emperor, Trebonianus Gallus, gallus being Latin for cockerel. The image is rather cartoon-like and Gallus was unpopular and apparently skewed outcomes of arena games to lead to more deaths than usual. In the mosaic he is dressed up as a gladiator trainer or animal hunter from the arena.

Taking a more serious approach, Martin Henig, in Religion in Roman Britain, identifies the cockheaded man as the god, Iao/Abraxis, and the scene as depicting an allegory on taking a straight and narrow path to heaven.

My own inclination is to go with the satirical interpretation. Yes, Iao was represented in iconography as having a chicken head but he also had snaky legs, which this man does not. This video shows a discussion about the mosaic by experts from the UK Open University who came to the same conclusion.

Serious god or political satire? What is your interpretation?
Find out more about Brading Roman Villa – Quick Facts

2 thoughts on “The Cockheaded Man”

  1. Pingback: Wish you were here – the holiday museum | Tincture of Museum

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