Last edited 21 Apr 2021


This hermaic sculpture depicts an old philosopher; it dates from the 2nd century BC.

A herm (or herma) is a rectangular pillar topped with a head or bust. It is believed these structures were used in Ancient Greece to mark boundaries and were often inscribed with distances.

The word herm may be representative of the Greek phrase for blocks of stone, but it may also be linked to the Greek god, Hermes. Associated with roads and borders, Hermes was a phallic god connected to the concepts of luck and fertility. Consequently, hermae frequently included carvings of genitals at the suitable height in the otherwise plain base. This symbol was apparently meant to ward off evil.

The herm was later adopted by the Romans who used it as a boundary marker. It was also a method of indicating boundaries in Renaissance and post-Renaissance times.

Herms (or hermae) sometimes took on purely decorative functions and served as sculpture-topped pedestals, either as single units or as pillars supporting figures. This application of the herm may be linked to structural supports such as the telamon (the Roman term) or atlas (also known as atlant, or atlante or atlantid), which were architectural components (such as columns, piers or pilasters) sculpted in a human form.

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