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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
1st-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
15.2 x 1 cm (6 x 3/8 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is green with brown encrustations. The object appears to be intact.

The spatula was made by casting the general shape, with some possible working to further shape the flat end and finish the surface.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Louise M. and George E. Bates, Camden, ME (by 1971-1992), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates
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 spatula, a possible variant of the oval-shaped or duck-billed spatulas, has a wide, flat, blunt-ended tongue (1). The lower corners of the tongue end in small, curled flanges, while the sides are very slightly concave. Five deeply carved ribs decorate the shaft just below the tongue. The shaft, which is slightly faceted, tapers and then expands into an olivary probe.

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. A spatula is a probe with one flattened, spatula-shaped end and a probe on the other used for stirring and applying medicines, among other uses (3). Spatulae are among the most common instrument types (4).


1. A similar spatula from a private collection is published in J. Kirkup, The Evolution of Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century (Novato, 2006) pl. 4. See also H. B. Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes, Greek, Roman and Etruscan, in the British Museum, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London, 1899) 315, no. 2344 (although without flanges and ribs).

2. J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 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. Milne 1907 (supra 2) 58-61; Michaelides 1984 (supra 2) 325-26; and R. Jackson and S. La Niece, “A Set of Roman Medical Instruments from Italy,” Britannia 17 (1986): 119-67, esp. 158.

4. L. J. Bliquez, Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Mainz, 1994) 46-47.

David Smart

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art
  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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