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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Surgical Instrument
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
medical instrument
1st-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
13.3 cm (5 1/4 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is 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
Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
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 instrument has a small circular pan fixed at a c. 40-degree angle at one end (1), and an oblong probe at the other. The shaft swells slightly at its middle to enable precision manipulation. A prominent collar extends around the thin shaft c. 3 cm from the pan (2).

Greek and Roman medical instruments, many of which were described by ancient authors, have been found, sometimes in sets, throughout the ancient world (3). 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 (4).


1. Compare a ligula with a similar “circular, angled plate” in R. Jackson and S. La Niece, “A Set of Roman Medical Instruments from Italy,” Britannia 17 (1986): 119-67, esp. 128, no. 28, fig. 4.

2. Compare G. Döderlein, Antike medizinische Instrumente: Funde zu Vindonissa (Tuttlingen, 1980) 15.

3. 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.

4. Milne 1907 (supra 3) 77-78; Michaelides 1984 (supra 3) 325; Jackson and La Niece 1986 (supra 1) 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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