Bull Head-Shaped Spout

This spout was found underneath Hotel Derlon at the square of Our Lady. A very important site where remains of a possible Roman sanctuary were found and the remains of the Roman fortress from the 4th century. This sprout could stratigraphically be dated to the late Iron and early Roman period, making it one of the oldest Roman objects found in Maastricht.

3D Model of the Bull Head-Shaped Spout

There are two angular horns at the top of the spout, which are broken at their ends. The eyes of the bull can still be vaguely seen below the horns. The mouth of the bull’s head is a circular hole that connects with the opening at the bottom of the object. The spout was part of a vessel, allowing the wine to flow through the circular spout.

This object belongs to the following theme:



Place of Origin
Hotel Derlon, Maastricht,
The Netherlands

Time Period of Use (ca.)
1 – 100 CE


Dimensions (cm)
Height: 6.5, Width: 6.5

3D Model

Nikon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Elisavet Dimopoulou & Yuehui Yan

Recollection of the Roman Past

The object we chose to digitise is a Roman artefact, a bull head-shaped spout, dated to the late Iron Age and early Roman period. This valuable archaeological piece was unearthed from beneath the Hotel Derlon, located at the Square of Our Lady, which holds significant historical importance.  This place is a very important site where remains of a possible Roman sanctuary and remains of the Roman fortress from the 4th century were found.

Hotel Derlon

The object is rather small. It is made of clay with a colour that resembles the black glazed technique. It has the shape of a bull’s head. From the 3D model, it can be seen that the two horns of the bull’s head are damaged. The eyes of the bull can still be vaguely seen below the horns. The mouth of the bull, meanwhile, takes the form of a circular aperture that is connected to an opening located at the base of the object. Originally, this spout would have been a component of a wine vessel, enabling the wine to flow freely through the circular orifice. At some point in its history, the vessel’s spout became detached, while the whereabouts of the remaining portion of the vessel remain unknown.

A Trace of Romans in Ancient Maastricht

As a historical city, Maastricht has been inhabited since the Roman period (Panhuysen, 2009). Therefore, this object is a very suitable representation of Maastricht’s Roman past. This valuable archaeological object was found in 1983. The finds date from the late Iron Age, with a small segment of a road from this period, a Roman god pillar from the early Roman settlement, remains of the 4th century, Roman fortification (wall segment and parts of the entrance gate) and even the production remains from antler processing in the 6th and 7th century. Moreover, all this is perfectly visible in the stratigraphy, which displays eight centuries of the history of Maastricht (Panhuysen, 2010).

Bull Head-Shaped Spout

The spout was found near the Iron Age road, but in the middle of the Iron Age and Roman stratigraphy, making it an important object from this period of transition. It could be late prehistoric or early Roman, making it the oldest Roman artefact of Maastricht (Panhuysen, 2010). The depiction of a bull predates the Roman era by centuries, for instance in the Minoan culture or the myth of Zeus and Europa. In the early Roman Period, the bull was worshipped as a symbol of many gods (Noffke, 1966, p.20). Thus, the shape of the bull’s head on this item might also symbolise the way that the gods were worshipped.

The entangled relationship between humans and objects means that we can find out the lives of the human who created, used, and disposed of these objects from the stories these objects are telling (Harding, 2016, p.8). During the Roman period, the design of pouring spouts commonly featured stylized depictions of heads or faces, such as those of Ram, sheep, bird, and other animals. As such, this object’s form, fashioned into the likeness of a bull’s head with a black-glazed surface, provides valuable insights into the delicate pottery-making techniques employed during this era. The detailed and intricate design, with elements such as pronounced nose, lips, and eyes, showcases the artistic finesse and attention to detail that was characteristic of Roman pottery.

Meanwhile, the design of the spout can help the flow of liquid when pouring, suggesting that it was primarily used for serving wine during important events and social gatherings in the Roman period. These features explain the relationships between people of the Roman era and the object, that is, they used it as a tool and a decorative element for dining.

A Glimpse of Daily Life

The consumption of festive food and drink held great social significance during the Roman era, with various terms used to describe such events, including the convivium (Latin for “living together”), banquet, and related terms such as the epulum (public feast), cena (mid-afternoon meal), and comissatio (drinking party) (Raff, 2011).  Public banquets, such as municipal feasts were served to all residents of a city, and could typically accommodate a vast number of dinners. Conversely, private dinner parties held at homes were more intimate gatherings, with the host inviting a select group of family, friends, business acquaintances, and clients. Noble private banquets were a type of sensory feast in which the host attempted to impress his guests with expensive food, elegant tableware, and various forms of amusement, all of which were enjoyed in a lavishly designed setting (Raff, 2011).

Throughout the Roman banquet, wine was provided as an accompaniment to the food (Raff, 2011). The wine was not only a drink in the Roman Period, but it also had a social role (Retief & Cilliers, 2015). For people at that time, especially men, drinking was a normalised daily activity like walking and sleeping (Phillips, 2018). A common Roman habit was the mixing of hot water into the wine, which was heated in special boilers known as authepsae. Cold water and, in exceptional cases, ice or snow were also utilised for mixing (Raff, 2011). Unlike the Greek practise of communal mixing for the entire party in a big krater (mixing bowl), the wine was often diluted to the guests’ taste and in their individual cups. A simpulum was used to pour wine into the sipping cup, allowing the server to measure out a particular amount of wine (Raff, 2011).

Ancient Rome Night Life

According to Phillips (2018), the way Romans drank their wine even shows their social status as rich and powerful people preferred regular wine with herbs and spices, while the lower classes could only have wine that had a lower alcohol degree or with water inside. This shows that, despite the differences in social class, drinking was already a common activity across different classes for people in the Roman Period. As part of a vessel, the pouring spout was mainly used to help the people at that period to pour wine, which made the object part of their daily life.

Apart from that, the object also represents the everyday life of the people who used it in a more general sense. As Igor Kopytoff (1986) argues, objects shouldn’t be viewed at only one point, but had to be understood as a whole in their existence and cycles of life, including the process of production, exchange, and consumption (pp. 64-91). Karin Dannehl (2018) also believes that ordinary objects also have historical value, as their generic quality and segmented elements were examples of mass production for everyday use in the past (p.124).

The object has the shape of a bull’s head, which means it was carefully designed during the design and production process because of its detail. Once completed, the object was exchanged and utilised by people. This shows the prevalence of wine at that time, as they would take the time to design, produce, and employ such delicate tools for drinking, attesting to the significance of wine in their daily lives. As such, this object is more than just a pouring spout; it is a tangible representation of Maastricht’s daily life during the Roman Period and provides valuable insight into their way of life.

A Roman feast by Roberto Bompiani, late 19th century. The J. Paul Getty Museum.


This object embodies the culture and daily practices of people in the Roman Maastricht, particularly the significance of wine drinking in their lives. Furthermore, the pouring spout’s careful design and intricate shape are indicative of the Romans’ artistic and creative prowess in their pottery-making techniques. As a result, this object represents not only the functionality but also the artistic expression and craftsmanship that was present in the daily lives of the people who lived in Maastricht during the Roman Period.

Written by Elisavet Dimopoulou & Yuehui Yan