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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
medical instrument
1st-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Rome (Latium)
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
20.6 x 0.5 cm (8 1/8 x 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is dark grayish green. There are small surface losses, but the object is otherwise intact. The ligula was made by casting the rough shape and then working to further shape it and finish the surface.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Harold Wilmerding Bell, Cambridge, MA (by 1911), gift; to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1911-1977), transfer; to the Fogg Museum.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Gift of H. W. Bell
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This ligula, the longest and thinnest of its type at Harvard, has a thin shaft that tapers to a blunt tip at one end; at the other end is a round, thin pan fixed at a very slight angle (1).

Greek and Roman medical instruments, many of which were described by ancient authors, have been found, sometimes in sets, throughout the ancient world (2). The instruments could have been used for more than one function, making precise classification difficult in some instances. A ligula is a probe with a small scoop on one end positioned at an angle to the shaft; the scoop was used to remove ointments and powdered medicines from containers and perhaps also apply them (3).


1. A similar instrument is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 17.230.110.

2. J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 1-9; and D. Michaelides, “A Roman Surgeon’s Tomb from Nea Paphos,” Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1984: 315-32, esp. 321-23.

3. Milne 1907 (supra 2) 77-78; Michaelides 1984 (supra 2) 325; R. Jackson and S. La Niece, “A Set of Roman Medical Instruments from Italy,” Britannia 17 (1986): 119-67, esp. 157; and L. J. Bliquez, Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Mainz, 1994) 48-49.

David Smart

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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