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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Medallion with Animal Head
Other Titles
Former Title: One of a Pair of Phalarae
Medals and Medallions
Work Type
2nd century BCE-1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Hellenistic period, Late, to Early Roman Imperial
Hellenistic or Early Roman
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
3.3 cm (1 5/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 74.51; Sn, 10.48; Pb, 14.55; Zn, 0.011; Fe, 0.1; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.05; Sb, 0.12; As, 0.11; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron
Comments: 2001.179.1 and 2001.179.2 have the same elements.
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: Except for a few nicked edges along the rim that reveal cupritic red mineralization, the object appears to be very well preserved with a thin dark brown patina that is worn through to the metal in some areas.

This object was cast in one piece and is solid. The features of the face are quite angular, as though they were cut rather than modeled. Whether this was done in the wax or metal is hard to assess due to wear and the patina layer. The flat disc preserves traces of scraping, which could have been done in antiquity or after excavation. The outer 1 mm or more of the front edge is set back and may have been associated with some original framing device or setting. The reverse is somewhat uneven. Thin traces of what appears to be silvery solder run along some sections of the outer edges of the back.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
Purchased from Frank L. Kovacs, San Mateo, CA. This ancient jewelry mold and related were part of a collection formed over the last twenty-five years. The individual pieces were acquired from private collectors and dealers.

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
The raised relief on this disc depicts the frontal head of an animal. The animal has pointed triangular ears, a prominently arched brow, wide-set eyes, a broad nose, and an open mouth. The details on this disc are much better preserved than on 2001.179.1, which depicts the same animal (1). The edge of the disc is slightly lowered on the front surface, particularly on the upper portion of the front surface, creating a beveled edge around at least part of the disc. The back of this medallion is flat and featureless.

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 (2). 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 (3). Some could have been decorative elements of furniture fittings (4). Others could have decorated horse harnesses or provided the matrix to create decoration for horse harnesses (5). 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 (6). Some might have been devotional or votive objects in their own right (7).


1. Perhaps a frontal version of the Dacian draco standard; compare depictions of the standard on the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome in F. Lepper and S. Frere, eds., Trajan’s Column: A New Edition of the Cichorius Plates (Gloucester, 1988) pls. 2-3. See also G. Webster, The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D., 3rd edn. (Norman, 1998) 134-35. Compare, for example, third century coin referses; see H. Mattingly, E. A. Sydenham, and C. H. V. Sutherland, eds., Roman Imperial Coinage 4.3: Gordian III-Uranius Antoninus (London, 1949) 133 and 135, nos. 101.a-g and 112 (Trajan Decius with reverse of Dacia holding draco standard).

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 2) 474, no. 1133; and in the British Museum, London, inv. nos. 1856,1226.867 and 1872,1214.1.

5. 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.

6. 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].

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

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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