Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
1st-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
8.7 x 0.5 x 0.3 cm (3 7/16 x 3/16 x 1/8 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is green with spots of red with brown burial accretions. Corrosion and some surface loss obscure the exact character of the incised lines.

The stylus was probably cast from a directly formed wax model. The spatula end is quite smooth, tapering to a fine edge, and may have been hammered or otherwise cold worked. The imperfect condition of the preserved incised lines makes it difficult to be certain, but they are soft in shape and were probably made in the wax model. The faceted middle section could have either been hammered in the metal or pressed in the wax model.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

Walton Brooks McDaniel, New Jersey (?-1943/46) gift; to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, (1943/46-2012) transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Note: Walton Brooks McDaniel gave a portion of his collection to the Department of the Classics in 1943 and the rest in 1946. The Collection is named for his wife, Alice Corinne McDaniel.

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
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
The shaft of this stylus is circular in section and carries elaborate decoration. The shaft can be subdivided into several distinct zones: six carry rows of diagonal lines, and two larger sections in the middle have flattened sides, perhaps to provide a better grip. The flattened “eraser” end is wedge-shaped, while the other end comes to a sharp point (1).

A stylus of this type would have been used to write on a Roman tablet; tablets were made of wood with a wax-covered surface. The wax surface made the tablet reusable, and the flat end of the stylus could be used to rub out the text. Styli have been found with sets of medical instruments and were sometimes used by ancient doctors, for instance, to extract teeth (2).


1. Compare R. Jackson and S. La Niece, “A Set of Roman Medical Instruments from Italy,” Britannia 17 (1986): 119-67, esp. 127-28, no. 26, fig. 3.

2. J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 72-73; and D. Michaelides, “A Roman Surgeon’s Tomb from Nea Paphos,” Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1984: 315-32, esp. 326.

Lisa M. Anderson and David Smart

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), M149, p. 197-98 [J. S. Crawford]

Exhibition History

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/17/2017 - 05/08/2017; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/22/2022 - 05/08/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Roman Domestic Art

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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