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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Minerva Bust Weight
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Bust of Minerva, Steelyard Weight
Measuring Devices
Work Type
1st-mid 3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
13.3 x 7.5 x 6.2 cm (5 1/4 x 2 15/16 x 2 7/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 78.28; Sn, 5.83; Pb, 15.59; Zn, 0.121; Fe, 0.06; Ni, 0.02; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.06; As, less than 0.10; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is gray-green with spots of black. The large crack through the head and chest appears to be a casting flaw or the result of corrosion or both. It gives the impression that a layer of bronze with the crack encloses a secondary metal at the interior. Under magnification, however, a bronze alloy continues deep into the crack and appears to be a single casting of one metal.

Although the bronze is heavy and appears to be solid cast, sampling at the lower back revealed that at least the bust section is hollow. Judging from that hole and the cracks in the face, the wall thickness ranges from 2 to 4 mm. Most details were probably in the mold used to make the wax model, but some features, such as the feathers of the crest, are fluid in their line and appear to be created by direct working in the wax model. Circular punch marks (1 mm in diameter) over most of the helmet may be the only cold worked elements. The texture of the corrosion products in the eyes is probably the remains of a secondary metal inlay, which is currently green. Black accretions at many locations are carbonized fragments of wood or grass, presumably related to a fire. A patch (1 x 1.5 cm) at the back of the bust lies in a slight depression and could be a repair of a casting flaw. The hole that it seals could alternatively be an intentional connection to the interior that secured the core and offered a means of removing the core after casting. The diameter of the wire ring matches the shape of the wear on the broken cast loop at the top of the head and appears to be original.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)


Recorded Ownership History
Nelson Goodman, Weston, MA (by 1970), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1995.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Nelson Goodman
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 figure’s gorgoneion, Corinthian helmet, and cloak make its identification as the goddess Minerva clear. The figure’s style suggests a second to third century CE date; the elegantly turned neck and the detail and naturalism of the face both point to a relatively early date of manufacture (1). Minerva was an unusual choice of form in the Roman period, although she was a popular figure for early Byzantine steelyards.

Steelyards were commonly used throughout the ancient Mediterranean. These crossbeams would have a weight, usually in the form of a person or deity, that slid along the bar of the scale to measure bulk goods (2). Not surprisingly, many of the Late Roman and Byzantine examples with known findspots have been found along a coast or in shipwrecks, reflecting their commercial utility. The standard term in English, “steelyard,” is a bit misleading, deriving from the use of similar scales in the area on the north bank of the Thames, London, where steel merchants clustered until 1597. In the Roman period, a wide range of figures was represented on the weights, reflecting the diversity of forms of Roman small bronzes in general. By the fourth to fifth century CE, this multiplicity had narrowed and almost all steelyards used weights represented a generic empress type (e.g., 2007.104.3.A-C) or the goddess Athena (Minerva) (3). Although many late examples have been dated generally to the Late Roman period, the most firmly dated example is from the seventh-century shipwreck of Yassi Ada, off the coast of modern Turkey (4). The holdings of the Harvard Art Museums represent the lively eclecticism of this category of bronze, including busts of an empress type, a Minerva, an emperor and an ambiguous nude.

The basic shape of the bust weights was probably created from the lost-wax process, with later refinements added as the materials cooled. The hollow core was filled with lead to achieve the required weight, and a thin bronze sheet on the bottom capped the lead filling. Variations appear in the manufacture of different categories of the weights. The upper loop, with which the figure would be attached to the upper scale, was aligned in two different directions: the loop on the empress bust weights ran front-to-back, while the Minerva bust weights, in contrast, had a top loop that presents its circular face to the viewer. Furthermore, the Minerva weights possess rectangular socles, and the empress weights have oval socles.


1. A very similar bust weight in Catania is published in N. Franken, Aequipondia: Figurliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen (Alfter, 1994) 138, no. A106, pl. 31.

2. For steelyards and bust weights in general, see ibid.

3. This bust weight is an early example of the type.

4. G. Kenneth Sams, “The Weighing Implements,” in Yassi Ada: A Seventh-Century Byzantine Shipwreck, eds. G. F. Bass and F. H. Van Doorninck, Jr. (College Station, TX, 1982) 202-30, esp. 224.

Anne L. McClanan

Publication History

  • Luann Abrahams, "Athenian Weight", Persephone (1997), Vol. 3, No. 1, 24-25, p. 25.

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/23/2019 - 05/13/2019

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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