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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Medallion with Busts of Serapis and Isis
Other Titles
Former Title: Jewelry Mold or Appliqué, Serapis and Isis
Medals and Medallions
Work Type
2nd century BCE-1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Hellenistic period, Late, to Early Roman Imperial
Hellenistic or Early Roman
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
2.18 cm (7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The entire front surface of the object is mineralized, and most of it is a cupritic red with some traces of green corrosion products. The back surface is uneven and also deformed by corrosion, but the lower section of the back is still metallic.

The object was cast in one pour. The figures are rendered in high relief but have been rendered almost illegible by corrosion and post-excavation cleaning, which has also made characterization of the modeling and cold working impossible. There seems to be a slight indentation near the center of the back, which is perhaps a feature related to the creation of the original wax model.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
Purchased from Frank L. Kovacs, San Mateo, CA.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, David M. Robinson Fund
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 small, irregular disc is decorated with relief busts of Serapis and Isis. The reliefs are well worn, making the details difficult to discern. Bearded Serapis faces frontally and wears a modius (calathos) headdress. Isis, with her head turned slightly toward Serapis but her torso frontal, may be wearing her high crown and characteristic knot between her breasts. There is a small, thin vertical item in the field between the two figures, perhaps a sistrum (1). The back of the disc has lumpy, featureless corrosion.

Serapis and Isis were Egyptian deities who became popular throughout the Graeco-Roman world (2).

The round, relief-decorated discs in this group (2001.179.1 through 2001.192, along with 2002.281) may not all have had the same use, and it is difficult to know what the exact function of each object was (3). Medallions of this type could have been used as matrixes to create thin, metal, particularly gold and silver, repoussé appliques as elements of decoration and jewelry, or they could have been used as decorative elements themselves (4). Some could have been decorative elements of furniture fittings (5). Others could have decorated horse harnesses or provided the matrix to create decoration for horse harnesses (6). Other potential uses are as decorative elements or models for decorative elements worn by individuals as part of jewelry or belt decorations, as seen in sculptural depictions (7). Some might have been devotional or votive objects in their own right (8).


1. Compare a rectangular plate with side-by-side medallion busts of Serapis and Isis in A. Ippel, Der Bronzefund von Galjûb: Modelle einese hellenistischen Goldschmieds, Pelizaeus-Museum zu Hildesheim wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung 2 (Berlin, 1922) 56-57, no. 58, pl. 6.

2. Serapis was closely associated with Osiris, who was the consort of Isis in pre-Graeco-Roman Egypt, and the two deities were often worshipped together in the same sanctuaries. See J. E. Stambaugh, Sarapis under the Early Ptolemies, Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’empire romain 25 (Leiden, 1972); and R. A. Wild, “The Known Isis-Serapis Sanctuaries from the Roman Period,” Augstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.17.4 (1984): 1739-851.

3. Similar medallions are known in other museum collections, including a medallion with a bust of Aphrodite in the Princeton University Art Museum, inv. no. y605, said to be from Syria; a medallion with a bust of Artemis in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 74.51.5537, from Cyprus; a medallion with the bust of a woman flanked by a child in the British Museum, London, inv. no. 1975,0316.23. For bust medallions of various sizes (from 1.5 to 13 cm) and levels of relief, see E. Babelon and J.-A. Blanchet, Catalogue des bronzes antiques de la Bibliothéque Nationale (Paris, 1895) 12-13, 55, 65-66, 110, 132, 178, 193, 214, 264, 316-17, 359-60, 369, and 445; nos. 25, 28, 120, 143-44, 253, 301, 400, 434, 491, 622, 712, 715, 827, 844, and 1022.

4. See M. Y. Treister, Hammering Techniques in Greek and Roman Jewellery and Toreutics, Colloquia Pontica 8 (Leiden, 2001) esp. “The Galjûb Hoard,” 253-73, and “Bronze Matrices in the Museums of Athens and Karlsruhe,” 362-71.

5. There are many surviving examples of this type, often with an animal, often a leopard, placing one or both forepaws on top of the medallion. Compare various examples in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. nos. 31630 and Fr. 1552 g 6-8; Babelon and Blanchet 1895 (supra 3) 474, no. 1133; and in the British Museum, London, inv. nos. 1856,1226.867 and 1872,1214.1.

6. See G. Greco, Bronzi dorati da Cartoceto: Un restauro, exh. cat., Museo Archaeologico, Florence (Florence, 1987) pls. 1-3 and 10-13. The horse heads had small round medallions decorated with busts in relief on the mouth, temples, and forehead of the harnesses. See also the gilt bronze horse head in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, inv. no. 54.759, which bears two medallions with busts, similar to this group in C. C. Mattusch, ed., The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections, exh. cat., Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Toledo Museum of Art; Tampa Museum of Art (Cambridge, 1996) 216-19, no. 20.

7. See the representation of an Archigallus (high priest) of Cybele, wearing a wreath decorated by circular medallions with busts, in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae Kybele no. 130. Marcus Caelius, a member of one of the three legions destroyed in the battle of the Teutoburger Forest in 9 CE, is represented in a cenotaph wearing various military awards, including phalerae in the form of medallions with heads, including one representing a gorgoneion, on his cuirass; see G. Webster, The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D., 3rd edn. (Norman, 1998) 132, pl. 6. For examples of relief bust medallions decorating belts, see F. Safar and M. A. Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God (Baghdad, 1974) 62, 64, and 210-11, nos. 3, 5, and 198 [in Arabic].

8. For example, 2001.189 and 2002.281; compare 1993.233.

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

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