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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Cylindrical Container for Surgical Instruments
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
19.2 x 1.5 cm (7 9/16 x 9/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina consists of variegated greens with brown encrustations from burial. A longitudinal impression in the corrosion may have been made by a long thin tool buried adjacent to the cylinder. Fragments of a cover are corroded onto the surface near the open end; the object consists of two parts, a cover and a cylinder.

The cylinder shows no evident longitudinal seam. It is possible the cylinder was cast and then worked after casting, as there are impressions left by tools on the interior. The bottom of the cylinder has a hole, which may have been from a lathe used for shaping and then engraving turn lines around the cylinder. The bottom of the cylinder has a thickness of about 5 mm, which may be corrosion or residue of some ancient material.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)

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 long, cylindrical tube is hollow and open at one end (1). A small hole punctures the center of the closed end of the tube. There is a very slight bend in the center of the round and fairly smooth shaft. The rim of a partially corroded top can be seen surrounding the tube’s opening.

Copper alloy cylindrical tubes with caps on one end could be used to hold medical instruments or medicines. The longer tubes, generally around 18 cm long, are considered more likely to have held the instruments and the smaller to have held the medicines (2).


1. Compare four copper alloy tubes from Roman-period France that are very similar to the Harvard piece in E. Künzl, Medizinische Instrumente aus Sepulkralfunden der römische Kaiserzeit (Bonn, 1983) 69 and 76, figs. 43.2 and 50.5-7. Three of these were found with a hoard of coins of Tetricus I (270-271 CE) and Tetricus II (273-274). Compare also two cylindrical tubes from Roman Italy found with a set of medical instruments; see R. Jackson and S. La Niece, “A Set of Roman Medical Instruments from Italy,” Britannia 17 (1986): 119-67, esp. 130-31 and 158-59, nos. 36-37, fig. 5.

2. J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 169-71; D. Michaelides, “A Roman Surgeon’s Tomb from Nea Paphos,” Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1984: 315-32, esp. 330-31; and L. J. Bliquez, Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Mainz, 1994) 66-68.

David Smart

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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