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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lower Half of a Seal Box
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Teardrop Earring or Pendant
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
2.9 x 1.6 cm (1 1/8 x 5/8 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is green and brown. The base was cast using the lost-wax process. The three holes in the bottom appear to have been stamped into the metal, and the flaps of displaced and thinned metal are still preserved on the edges of the small round openings; the tool used to make the holes left impressions around the edges.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Formerly in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, no. E-2358.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
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 remains of a terminal knob are visible on one end of this otherwise undecorated base of a leaf-shaped seal box (1). The lower elements of the hinge survive, although the holes of the hinge tabs are filled; the loop of the cover would have been inserted between the preserved hinge loops of the bottom and secured with a pin. There are three holes in the bottom of the box: two are at the wider end and one at the narrower end. The sides of the base are thickest where they meet the bottom and thinnest where they would meet the lid of the box. There is a fragment missing where the right notch would be, but the left notch is shaped like an irregular triangle.

Seal boxes are small, often elaborately decorated containers made up of a lid and base joined together by a hinge. Seal boxes were usually circular or leaf-shaped, although square and rhombic boxes also appear. There were three to four small holes in the base of seal boxes and occasionally one on the lid (2). From the second century CE, the lids frequently bore colored enamel decoration. The Romans used seal boxes to protect the wax or lead seals that they put on documents or other important items prior to transport. When an object was prepared for transport, it would be wrapped in string or twine. The ends of the string would then be put through the seal box, which had a small notch cut into each side to accommodate the string. The string would then be tied and covered with wax or lead, which would then be imprinted with the impression from a signet ring to make a seal. The small box would then protect the seal while the object travelled to show that it had not been tampered with, and the only way to open the object would be to cut the string or break the seal. Seal boxes have often been found at military sites and may have been used more frequently by Roman soldiers than others (3). The use of seal boxes ended in the late third century CE.


1. Compare J. Bagnall Smith, “Votive Objects and Objects of Votive Significance from Great Walsingham,” Britannia 30 (1999): 21-56, esp. 40-47, nos. 48 and 61-62, figs. 4-5; and A. R. Furger, M. Wartmann, and E. Riha, Die römischen Siegelkapseln aus Augusta Raurica, Forschungen in Augst 44 (Augst, 2009) 54-61, color pls. 1-3.

2. For general information about the use, variety, distribution, and dating of seal boxes, see Furger, Wartmann, and Riha 2009 (supra 1).

3. See T. Derks and N. Roymans, “Seal-Boxes and the Spread of Latin Literacy in the Rhine Delta,” in Becoming Roman, Writing Latin? Literacy and Epigraphy in the Roman West, ed. A. E. Cooley, JRA Suppl. 48 (Portsmouth, RI, 2002) 87-135.

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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