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Knight Riding a Snail Goat: WTF?

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

A recently discovered silver badge or belt decoration of a knight riding a snail atop of a goat leaves researchers wondering, WTF?

A silver badge depicting a knight with his hands crossed in prayer riding a snail atop of a goat was found in 2020 by a treasure hunter in England.

Believed to be a 13th-century belt decoration or badge, this inch-long motif has left historians scratching their heads. Was it designed to be a parody of the medieval pilgrim’s badge? An insulting depiction of Italians? A Biblical or even a sexual reference? No one knows for sure.

Some researchers have postulated that depicting a knight as slimy as a snail may have acted as an insult against the Lombards, who ruled what is now a part of Italy. Representatives from the British Library have suggested that it may also be a representation of the struggles of the “poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a statement of the snail’s reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even a… symbol of female sexuality.”

A knight battling a snail, from the 14th-century Gorleston Psalter.

What is certain is that medieval people loved visual jokes. Snails were often depicted in the margins of illuminated manuscripts as a symbol of cowardice. As such, the mount may be a “satirical reference to… non-chivalric behavior of opponents in battle, or as a parody of the knightly classes,” explains Beverly Nenk, curator at the British Museum.

Wakefield Museum hopes to eventually acquire the object.



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