Incorrect Username, Email, or Password
This object does not yet have a description.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Sistrum Handle with the Head of Hathor
Musical Instruments
Work Type
musical instrument
mid 8th-mid 4th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
16.8 cm (6 5/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Cu, 80.9; Sn, 4.98; Pb, 5.87; Zn, 6.95; Fe, 0.45; Ni, 0.13; Ag, 0.48; Sb, 0.13; As, 0.11; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, 0.003
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The sistrum handle is intact, except for the missing arched portion, and in stable condition. The patina, which is evenly dark brown with small spots of green and red, is relatively thin. Lack of detail appears to be in the casting rather than the result of wear or corrosion.

Except for the tube shape at the bottom, the object is solid cast, probably using a lost-wax process. The lack of fine detail, which appears to be an attribute of the casting rather than its condition, makes it difficult to suggest a direct or indirect process. The object was cast as a single unit with no joins, and the bottom edge is cast, rather than being a broken surface.

Henry Lie (submitted 2005)


Recorded Ownership History
[C. Dikran Kelekian, New York (by 1974)] sold; to Bob and Sally Huxley, Pennsylvania (1974-2001), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2001.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Sally and Robert Huxley
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.


Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This sistrum handle depicts a molded bust of the goddess Hathor, whose face appears on the front and back, although one side is more carefully rendered than the other. She is frontal, wearing a prominent wig, parted in the middle and with curls at each end. Her cow-shaped ears are rendered flat on the outside of the wig. The face is round, with large wide-set eyes, a broad flat nose, wide mouth, round cheeks, and flat chin. Below the chin is a raised area, and a plain broad collar is rendered. On both sides of the head of Hathor, facing outward, is a cobra wearing a crown. The cobras are attached to the handle at the top of the crown and at the body, although the area behind the heads and most of the crowns are completely detached from the handle.

Above the bust of Hathor is a seated cat, which is modeled in the round, possibly associating this piece with Bastet (1). The cat sits on a molded band that resembles an entablature, with a beaded border at the top and bottom and a row of rectangles resembling triglyphs in the middle. The tip of the cat’s left ear is missing. The cat faces in the same direction as the more carefully rendered side of the handle. On either side of the cat are the remains of the curving frame that would have held the crossbars that created the rattling sound. The handle itself is cylindrical, with raised bands at the top and bottom.

The sistrum was a musical instrument that created sound through the rattling of its metal pieces; the Egyptian name for these instruments, sesheshet or sesheshat, is onomatopoetic and mimics the instruments’ rattling sound (2). The instrument played an important part in the rites of the goddesses such as Hathor and Isis. It is often depicted as insignia of young female participants of these cults. With the spread of the Isis cult, examples of sistra have been found throughout the Roman world, including Pompeii (3). Many examples incorporate the head of Hathor along with other ornaments, although some are unadorned.


1. Thanks are due to E. Russo, Brown University, for this information.

2. E. Russo, pers. comm.

3. S. De Caro, The National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Naples, 1996) 132.

Lisa M. Anderson and Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at