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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
mid 3rd-mid 5th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period, Late
Late Roman or Byzantine
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
overall: 5.6 x 2.2 cm (2 3/16 x 7/8 in.)
base: 2.2 x 3.4 cm (7/8 x 1 5/16 in.)
head: 1.7 cm (11/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 83.01; Sn, 12.37; Pb, 3.84; Zn, 0.062; Fe, 0.08; Ni, 0.05; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.08; As, 0.37; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.096; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is a greenish brown with metallic surface showing through. The object features casting flaws and rough finishing marks.

The eagle is a solid cast, probably by lost-wax casting. The bottom shows what may be the remains of the sprue for casting. The surface design was engraved.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)

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
The bird rests its feet and tail on a small oval base. The figurine and base were cast together. The claws are strong, heavy, and somewhat paw-like, with the right slightly bigger than the left. Short parallel incisions decorate the top of the head, neck, and claws; longer deep incisions articulate feathers on the tail. There is a triangular depression behind each eye, perhaps made by pincers. The schematic surface decoration suggests a late Roman or early Byzantine date.

A protrusion from the bottom of the base could be either a remnant from the casting process or a tang used to attach the eagle to another object. In the Late Roman period, eagles and other birds commonly adorned bronze vessels and lamps (1). Alternatively, the relatively large rectangular base might have been attached to a pedestal, equipping the eagle to serve as a votive statuette. Miniature eagles secured on pedestal bases were likely placed in a household or other type of shrine; a bronze eagle served as a votive offering at the Sanctuary of Diana at Nemi (2). In antiquity, the religious significance of the eagle stemmed from its association with Zeus (Roman Jupiter). As an imperial token, it symbolized victory and rulership. The eagle also accompanied emperors’ souls to heaven (3). In the early Byzantine period, eagles were rendered in bronze, ivory, and ceramic as an imperial and consular emblem of authority and possibly a more general sign of good fortune (4).


1. See V. Spinazzola, Le arti decorative in Pompei e nel Museo Nazionale di Napoli (Milan, 1928) no. 272 (vase) and no. 293 (lampstand); W. Kuhn, Frühchristliche Kunst aus Rom, exh. cat., Villa Hügel (Essen, 1962) 139-40, no. 254 (lamp); and Byzantium in Scandinavian Collections, 86, no. 54 (lamp).

2. See M. Comstock and C. C. Vermeule, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Greenwich, CT, 1971) nos. 164 and 167; G. R. Davidson, Corinth 12: The Minor Objects (Princeton, 1952) 12, no. 512 (bronze), pl. 49; W. F. Volbach, Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters, 3rd edn. (Mainz, 1976) nos. 51-52 (ivory); and M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 1: Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting (Washington, DC, 1962) no. 93.

3. For an eagle cameo, dated to after 27 BCE, with a palm of victory and an oak wreath, see W. Oberleitner, Geschnittene Steine: Die Prunkkameen der Wiener Antikensammlung (Vienna, 1985) 38. For eagles as the ascending soul of the emperor in the leaf of an early Byzantine diptych (c. 450 CE) representing an imperial funeral, see Volbach 1976 (supra 2) no. 56.

4. Compare Volbach 1976 (supra 2) nos. 51-52 (eagles on imperial diptychs), and nos. 6, 8, 16, and 24 (eagles on top of consular staffs). Also see A. Cutler, “Eagles,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. A. P. Kazhdan, 3 vols. (New York, 1991) 1:669.

Diliana Angelova

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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