The Mouth of truth, Rome

The Mouth of truth, Rome

Long before the lie detectors were invented, the ancient Romans relied on a large marble carving to verify whether or not someone was telling the truth.

This marble carving is called Bocca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth. It worked this way: people would place their hand inside the mouth, and if they lied, the mouth would supposedly close—hereby amputating the liar. (The Mouth of Truth should not be confused with another practice from the Middle Ages: letter boxes where anyone could literally “mouth off” insults, accusations or gossip about others in complete anonymity.)

This Mouth of Truth can be found at the Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church, in Rome’s Piazza Bocca Della Verità. It has been here since 1632, though experts believe it is a minimum of 2,200 years old. It is made of Pavonazzetto marble and measures nearly 20 centimeters thick. It tips the scales at 1,200kg.

However, its origins and purpose remain a point of controversy for experts. Some believe that the mask has always been used as a “lie detector,” even as far back as 800 BC.Others think that it had more humble beginnings as a drain cover (possibly positioned near the Hercules Temple). There are also those who think that it was originally a fountain, due to the two holes at its sides. According to these people, it only served as a “Mouth of Truth” in the Medieval period. Their critics, however, point out the lack of signs of erosion, which would definitely be there if the mask had been used near water.

Another topic for debate is the god represented in the carving. Some think it is Mercury, since there is a nearby spring that was dedicated to this god of thieves and merchants. Others think it is Faunus or Oceanus because of the horns on the mask. There are also those who think it is Jupiter, since there was a nearby temple that honored Jupiter Jurarius, the god of law.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin was built over the remains of some Roman buildings in the 6th Century.

It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was originally cared for by Greek monks (the term "cosmedin" derives from the Greek word for "adorn").

It is well known by its tall and beautiful bell tower, but even more so by the Mouth of Truth.

So next time you're in Rome, take the test! But be careful, . . . . you never know!

The Mouth of truth, Rome