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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Votive Nail or Punch
Ritual Implements
Work Type
ritual implement
3rd-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
Cast and hammered
h. 7.4 x w. 0.6 x d. 0.6 cm (2 7/8 x 1/4 x 1/4 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is a thin dark-green layer with areas of underlying brown and red visible. Microscopic spots of black sulfide are present. The surface is in good condition, and the nail is structurally sound

There is no evidence of casting, but this solid nail could have been either cast or cold worked to its present shape. Most areas of the surface show file abrasions, perhaps marks from the original finishing. Decorative grooves up to 1 mm deep have been filed into two adjacent sides, and 1-mm circular punch marks decorate the other two adjacent sides.

Henry Lie (submitted 2008)


Recorded Ownership History
The Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University (before 1970-2012), transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
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 nail or punch is decorated on two sides with incised zigzag lines; on the other two sides, it is decorated by wavy lines of small circular punches. The head shows lines radiating out from the center. The nail is square in section and tapers to a point.

Four nails in the British Museum, London, are similar to the Harvard example (1). The markings on the London examples are legible magical texts and images, unlike the markings on the Harvard example, but it is likely that the Harvard piece also had magical connotations (2).


1. Inv. nos. 1856,1226.886; 1873,0820.146-47; and 1975,0902.8; see H. B. Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes in the British Museum: Greek, Roman and Etruscan (London, 1899) 370, nos. 3191-94.

2. See ibid. for transcriptions of the texts.

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

  • John Crawford, Sidney Goldstein, George M. A. Hanfmann, John Kroll, Judith Lerner, Miranda Marvin, Charlotte Moore, and Duane Roller, Objects of Ancient Daily Life. A Catalogue of the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection Belonging to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, ed. Jane Waldbaum, Department of the Classics (unpublished manuscript, 1970), M156, p. 199 [J. S. Crawford]

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

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