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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Strap Distributor with Phallic Strap Ends
Riding Equipment
Work Type
riding equipment
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
Group: 11.6 cm (4 9/16 in.)
Each element: 5 cm (1 15/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 90.54; Sn, 8.5; Pb, 0.31; Zn, 0.24; Fe, 0.02; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.15; Sb, less than 0.05; As, 0.21; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is green with areas of black and preserved bright metal. The surface is well preserved. Six of nine rivets are intact.

All three phallic elements are fairly identical and were probably cast from wax models made in the same mold. Their surfaces are smooth and appear to have been burnished. The ring connecting the three is cold worked. Small pieces of copper alloy sheet (0.5 mm thick) have survived on two of the rivets. These might have helped hold a more fragile material behind the phallic elements, such as a leather rein. The gap to the metal sheet would accommodate leather that was c. 2 mm thick.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of David and Genevieve Hendin
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 strap distributor, which would have been a component of a horse’s trappings, has three phallic-shaped strap ends around a central ring (1). All three strap ends are very stylized; the head is mushroom-shaped, while the testicles are semicircular protrusions on each side. The middle of each strap end is thicker than the edges. Three rivets, one through each testicle and the head, were used per strap end to attach it to a leather strap; six of the original nine rivets are still present. Each strap end terminates in a thick loop by which it attaches to the central ring.

Phallic elements were common decorative elements on a variety of objects, from horse trappings to lamps (2). Their symbolism provided them with an apotropaic, protective function (3).


1. For less elaborate examples, compare B. Borell, Statuetten, Gefässe und andere Gegenstände aus Metall, Katalog der Sammlung antiker Kleinkunst des Archäologischen Instituts der Universität Heidelberg 3.1 (Mainz, 1989) 155, no. 183, pl. 57; M. Schleiermacher, “Wagenbronzen und Pferdegeschirr im Römisch-Germanischen Museum Köln,” Kölner Jahrbüch 29 (1996): 205-95, esp. 282 and 284-87, nos. 176 and 178-82, figs. 97.t and 99.a-d; and E. Deschler-Erb, Ad arma! Römisches Militär des 1. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. in Augusta Raurica, Forschungen in Augst 28 (Augst, 1999) 60-62, fig. 62 (left).

2. P. M. Allison, The Insula of the Menander at Pompeii 3: The Finds (Oxford, 2006) 33. For lamps, see L. Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, ed., Il bronzo dei Romani: Arredo e suppellettile (Rome, 1990) 190 and 270, no. 55, figs. 161-62, where a triple amulet is part of an elaborate hanging lamp, which also includes several bells and an ithyphallic figurine.

3. M. Kohlert-Németh, Römische Bronzen 1: Aus Nida-Heddernheim, Götter und Dämonen, Archäologische Reihe 11 (Frankfurt am Main, 1988) 66-67.

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

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