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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Coin Scale
Measuring Devices
Work Type
5th-6th century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Mixed copper alloy or leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
7.2 x 1.4 x 0.7 cm (2 13/16 x 9/16 x 1/4 in.)
23.25 g
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Mixed Copper Alloy
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead, zinc
Other Elements: iron, arsenic

XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: zinc, iron, silver, antimony

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The object is made up of two copper alloy pieces joined by an iron rivet at the center (the iron was confirmed with a magnet). Both of the pieces were cast by the lost-wax process.

The decorative pattern of a circle with a dot at the center was created in the metal with a single punch. Uneven pressure on the punch resulted in some of the marks being deeper than others, while some marks have the appearance of crescents and dots where one side of the punch did not penetrate the metal.

The terminals bear scrape (and possibly hammer) marks. Some of these marks appear to have been caused by post-excavation cleaning, which exposed the now-oxidized metal. There are coarse scrape marks on the inside of one piece, which contribute to the otherwise uneven surface. Coarse, worn file marks on the sides of the smaller piece seem to have been made in the wax.

A dark blackish-green patina forms a layer over the metal, which is worn to a dark brown. Some of this seems to be a waxy build-up. This was ascertained during removal of a bit of the accretions from one of the recessed decorative areas with a bamboo tip to gauge the depth and shape of the punch mark.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)

Thomas Whittemore (by 1950), bequest; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1951.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Thomas Whittemore
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 hand-held scale, or tumbrel, was used to measure coins (1). The device is composed of two oblong copper alloy pieces, hinged at their midpoints (2). The smaller, thinner piece is shaped to fit within the larger one. Each arm has a leaf-shaped terminal at one end and a rounded terminal at the other. Simple circles of regular size embellish the object (2). When the arms are closed, only the decorated surfaces remain visible.

To operate the scale, the user positioned one piece vertically at its rounded end, forming a fulcrum. The second piece opened horizontally to create the beam (3). The rounded end of the balance is pre-weighted to measure coins of a specific denomination. The leaf-shaped end is flattened to hold the coin. Coins of correct weight tip the scale, causing the coin to fall off. If the coin is of insufficient weight, the beam remains horizontal (4). This scale may have been used to measure two coin types, with each arm weighted to a different denomination (5). The lack of control stamps indicates that the tumbrel was not used for official state measuring.

In the late Roman and early Byzantine eras, scales and weights for measuring coins and precious metals were assembled into portable sets (5). Presumably coins were weighed in groups on a balance scale, and if the expected total weight was insufficient, a tumbrel was used to identify unacceptable coins (6). The compact design of this device made it well suited for inclusion in a measuring kit.


1. Compare G. R. Davidson, Corinth 12: Minor Objects (Princeton, 1952) 194, no. 1466, pl. 88; A. MacGregor, “Coin Balances in the Ashmolean Museum,” The Antiquaries Journal 65.2 (1985): 439-45, esp. 440-41, fig. 1.3; S. Campbell, ed., The Malcove Collection: A Catalogue of the Objects in the Lillian Malcove Collection of the University of Toronto (Toronto, 1985) 73, no. 93; and D. Papanikola-Bakirtze, Kathēmerinē zōē sto Vyzantio [Everyday Life in Byzantium], exh. cat., Museum of Byzantine Culture (Athens, 2002) 71, no. 18 [in Greek]. For a general discussion of similar copper alloy tumbrels, see D. J. Rogers, Tumbrels, The Finds Research Group AD 700-1700, Datasheet 16 (York, 1993).

2. Similar devices in varying dimensions were also produced in ivory and bone; see MacGregor 1985 (supra 1) 442, figs. 1.6-7.

3. Regarding circle decorations of this kind and their potential apotropaic force, see E. D. Maguire, H. P. Maguire, and M. J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, 1989) 5-7.

4. Campbell 1985 (supra 1) 73.

5. N. J. Mayhew, “A Tumbrel at the Ashmolean Museum,” The Antiquaries Journal 55 (1975): 394-96, esp. 394.

6. Efforts to determine the denominations of Byzantine coins that were used with this balance have been inconclusive. This piece could also be Islamic.

7. See S. Bendall, Byzantine Weights: An Introduction (London, 1996) 4; and C. Stiegemann, ed., Byzanz, das Licht aus dem Osten: Kult und Alltag im Byzantinischen Reich vom 4. bis 15. Jahrhundert, exh. cat., Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum Paderborn (Mainz, 2001) 281.

8. Mayhew 1975 (supra 5) 395.

Alicia Walker

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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