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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

Cast, lost-wax process
3 cm (1 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 87.43; Sn, 11.28; Pb, 0.55; Zn, 0.003; Fe, 0.54; Ni, 0.06; Ag, 0.05; Sb, 0.09; As, less than 0.10; 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: Much of the front surface is mineralized, and the corrosion has been shaved down so that there are islands of cupritic red and darker areas of rather pitted copper alloy. The disc was originally c. 3.0 cm diameter, but sections of the edges have been lost to corrosion.

The object is a solid cast that was made in one piece. The figure is rendered in high relief on a flat round background. It has been damaged by corrosion and post-excavation cleaning, which makes the details illegible and characterization of the original modeling and cold working impossible. A circular impression runs around the lower part of the front of the piece, and it may be associated to the edge of an original framing device or setting. On the reverse, the center is slightly raised (c. 1.72 cm in diameter). Remains of solder run in a ring along much of the outermost 3 to 4 mm 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 prominent brow, wide-set eyes, a broad nose, and an open mouth. The details on this disc are less well preserved than on 2001.179.2, which depicts the same animal (1). The edge of the disc is slightly lowered on the front surface, particularly under the animal’s chin, creating a beveled edge around at least part of the disc. A raised circle is present on the back, with a small circular depression in the center, which perhaps indicates that this piece was a decorative applique. The back is otherwise 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 reverses; 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 a 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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