Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Ringed Bridle Bit Decorated with Applique Medallions Depicting Bellerophon and the Chimera
Riding Equipment
Work Type
3rd-4th century CE or later
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Late
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Bit: Iron; Relief: Brass
Cast and hammered
31.6 x 10.5 x 4.4 cm (12 7/16 x 4 1/8 x 1 3/4 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: Relief medallions
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Brass
Alloying Elements: copper, zinc
Other Elements: tin, lead, iron

XRF data from Tracer
Material: Iron

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The iron horse bit is rusted, and the central elements are a shiny dark red. The brass components are a golden-hued metal with traces of dark brown patina. It is not clear whether the brown is an oxidation product or the remains of an organic coating.

The rusting of the iron parts has resulted in pitting of the surface. Some of the surface is concealed by burial accretions. Dark metallic iron is exposed where the highpoints have been worn down. The surfaces of the brass components are very worn.

Oxidation has exposed the elongated metallographic structure that follows the direction of the iron rings and central elements. This is evidence that the rings and bit were wrought, although the seam-like features that run along opposing sides of the bits suggest that they were molded. It is possible that wrought rod-shaped pieces were heated and then stamped between a two-piece mold. The rings would have been fashioned and closed once they had been threaded through the openings in the central bits.

One of the small round reliefs preserves evidence that the identical images were struck on thin sheets of brass. One of these medallions shows the doubled contours of an image that has been stamped a second time after the disc had become misaligned. Measurements taken along the exposed edges of one of the thin medallions show that the thickness ranges from 0.3 to 0.8 mm. Close examination of the edges also revealed that the brass sheets were mounted with lead to the iron circles. Traces of a small rectangular punch or blunt chisel can be seen in a few areas on one of the reliefs.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Jonathan H. Kagan
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 bridle or snaffle bit is made of iron; large iron rings are suspended from each end of the jointed mouthpiece. The two mouthpiece sections each have a loop at one end, where they are joined; these loops are followed by a narrower section that expands into a second loop, through which the large rings pass. The second loops end with a large circular disc on each side to which a thin brass medallion is attached. The brass medallions bear identical scenes showing Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus, riding to the right, with the Chimera below. Bellerophon wears a cloak, flaring out behind him, and grasps a spear in his right hand, which emerges below the legs of Pegasus to stab at the Chimera. Pegasus wears a bridle, with the reins faintly visible; his legs are shown running forward, tail streaming behind him, and his folded wing partially covers the body of Bellerophon. The Chimera is also shown running to the right, his lion-, goat-, and snakeheads all turned to look back at the hero and his mount. The scene is surrounded by a border of dots.

It is not clear if the brass medallions were made specifically to decorate this horse bit or if they were repurposed. The scene on the brass medallions closely resembles copper alloy contorniates of the fourth to early fifth centuries CE, the main difference being the borders (1). Representations even more similar to the Harvard medallions appear on thin, repoussé copper alloy casket covers that have been found particularly in Hungary (2). It is possible that Harvard’s medallions might have come from such a casket cover and were later used to decorate this bridle bit (3).


1. The contorniates have solid borders, rather than borders of dots; see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae Pegasos no. 180.a-b. For a discussion of the scene and its symbolism, see A. Alföldi and E. Alföldi, Die Kontorniat-Medaillons, Antike Münzen und geschnittene Steine 6 (Berlin, 1976-1990) 133-36.

2. See LIMC Pegasos no. 176; and D. Gáspár, Spätrömische Kästchenbeschläge in Pannonien, Acta Antiqua et Archaeologica 15 (Szeged, 1971) 14-15,18, and 22, nos. 2, 15, and 48-49, figs. 37, 52, and 85-86; all are noted from findspots in a relatively circumscribed area of Hungary between northern Lake Balaton and Budapest (north eastern Pannonia): Balatonlovas near Alsóörs, Dunaújváros (ancient Intercisa), Királyszentistván, and Árpás (Kisárpás, ancient Mursella). An example from France can be added to the list above; see H. Buschhausen, Die Spätrömischen Metallscrinia und frühchristlichen Reliquiare, Wiener Byzantinistische Studien 9 (Vienna, 1971) 28-29, no. A4, pl. 7 (from Mandeure). Buschhausen also publishes the examples from Dunaújváros, Kisárpás, Balatonlovas, and Királyszentistván (as Veszprém); ibid., 34-38, 52-54, 93-95, and 138-39; nos. A9, A21, A45, and A67; pls. 9-11, 23-24, 48-49, and 85.

3. Although jointed snaffle bits date at least back to the Iron Age and the form is still in use today, this example may not be an antiquity. Compare simple, undecorated copper alloy examples in W. M. Werner, Eisenzeitliche Trensen an der unteren und mittleren Donau, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 16.4 (Munich, 1988) 61-73, nos. 208-44, pls. 28-33.

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, (Winter 2007)., p. 13.

Exhibition History

Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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