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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
medical instrument
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
10.2 x 0.25 x 0.2 cm (4 x 1/8 x 1/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is black with areas of green. The tool end is broken off, while the rounded end is preserved. The handle was made by casting with some finishing after casting.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Formerly in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, no. E-2339 or 2337.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 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
The two halves of this instrument are quite different. One end has an olivary probe and thin, circular-sectioned shaft. The location where the two unequal halves join is marked by two raised collars. The other, longer half has a piriform finial, set off by two more raised collars that are larger than those separating the halves (1). The shaft on this portion is square in section.

Greek and Roman medical instruments, many of which were described by ancient authors, have been found, sometimes in sets, throughout the ancient world (2). The instruments could have been used for more than one function, making precise classification difficult in some instances. Probes had various uses and came in many types, some with scoops on the end (ligulae) or with a flatted end (spatulae), others with olivary probes on both ends. The probe ends could be used for searching wounds or applying medicines (3). The probes might also have been used for grinding and mixing cosmetics (4).


1. An oculist’s instrument set from Rheims has a probe with a similar decorative finial, now in St-Germain-en-Laye; see J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 58, pl. 11.5. See also G. Gaboriau, Outils de la santé et médecine d’autrefois (Le Mans, 2003) 13, dated to the second to third centuries CE.

2. Milne 1907 (supra 1) 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.

3. Michaelides 1984 (supra 2) 315-32, esp. 324-25.

4. L. J. Bliquez, Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Mainz, 1994) 52.

David Smart

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art
  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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