Palace Guardian


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Palace Guardian
©Trustees of the British Museum, Af1954,08.1
Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

This brass snake's head, 16.73 inches long, hung over the lower part of a palace turret. Its wriggling body is thought to have been cast in sections and set over wood, unlike the head; when the palace burned in 1897, the heat from the underlying wooden blaze probably melted the brass, and the head itself dropped off. These heads were made in pairs, two to a tower. Although they were present on towers from the 16th century and some were still present in 1897, this example is an 18th-century work, its ornate surface resembling the snake on a throne from the period. Some of the extent snakes' heads include attached sheet metal tongues that apparently moved in the wind, a rare example of early kinetic sculpture.

Many Benin animal depictions are not species-specific, and scholars disagree about the type of snake represented here. Ben-Amos interprets it as a python, a serpent associated with Olokun, deity of the sea and wealth, while Nevadomsky believes it may be a puff adder, a viper associated with wealth.


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria