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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Plate and Two Zoomorphic Hooks from a Samnite Belt
Work Type
first half 4th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, South Italy
Classical period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, arsenic
Comments: The belt plate and hooks have the same elements.
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina on the components of both Samnite belts is green with areas of red. Iron corrosion products are present. The clasps of 2012.1.107.A-C may have been cleaned by scraping. There is some white glue on the inside of one clasp. 1995.1138 is assembled from many fragments and currently sewn onto a cloth backing; one of the clasps is loose.

The belt clasps of 1995.1138 and 2012.1.107.A-C have similar dimensions and styles. It seems likely that they were made in the same workshop. Neither set exactly matches, and none of the four clasps seems to have come from the same mold as any of the others. For example, there are small differences in the length of the ears and the cast groove above the ears. The clasps may have been made as single pieces and matched later; the two clasps of 1995.1138 match each other more closely than they do those of 2012.1.107.A-C, while the clasps of 2012.1.107.A-C match each other more closely than they do those of 1995.1138. The design on the clasp heads of 2012.1.107.A-C is slightly different.

The plates also have slight differences. 2012.1.107.A-C has fewer preserved perforations on the edge, but those that are preserved have a similar frequency to the other plate. The small perforations have flanges or burs indicating the use of a punch. The holes were possibly started by hand drilling using a bow drill and then punched in order not to deform the surface. The plates have different widths and slightly different thicknesses (1995.1138 is 1 mm thick, while 2012.1.107.A-C is c. 0.8 mm thick). There are no visible hammer marks on either plate under raking light, but the plates must have been formed by hammering using a broad hammer. The repoussé crescents around the holes in the plates would probably not have added any strength. They may have served as guides to help align the clasp hooks with the holes. They may also have been decorative, perhaps mimicking an earlier material (like leather). They could have been made to accommodate the shape of the fabric or leather lining.

The clasps were cast as a single piece from the hooks to the eyes; the back of the eyes shows sinkholes that would have followed the shape of a mold. Cold work in the metal was done on the head of each clasp, including some punch work and very fine dotted circles on the head. The same small pointed punch was used to create lines of dots at the cicada’s head. The four circular punches at the base of the dog or dragon’s neck were made with a single circular punch. The body was perhaps cast as a metal rod, flattened into a sheet, hammered into shape using a matrix, then the sides were trimmed and flattened, and finally the surface details were added. The body is thicker near the eyes and clasps than at the bottom, which is another indication of hammering.

The lines of each cicada’s wings were incised with a very sharp point directly on the metal using very short strokes that are visible under a microscope. Viewed from the top, the lines are perfectly straight, and it is likely that a straight edge was used to guide the incising tool. The very bottom of each line curves slightly to meet the bottom edge. This section of each line is cruder in shape and was made using an abrasive or cutting tool, similar perhaps to a file.

The mount holes at the middle of the cicada head and tail have flange deformations on both faces from the bow-drilling process. Iron corrosion products are present from the iron pin used to secure them to the belt.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)


Recorded Ownership History
[Galleria Casa Serodine, Ascona, Switzerland], (1966), sold; to the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1966-2012), transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, 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
These attachment hooks and plate fragment belong to a Samnite warrior's belt (1). The plate is flat, thin metal, broken at one end, with two raised circular perforations in the body for the attachment of hooks. There is also a line of smaller perforations along the three the intact edges, which were used for sewing the belt plate onto a cloth or leather backing.

The two attachment hooks are in the shape of cicadas; the large eyes are concentric circles, and the wings are incised with fine lines and folded down. An iron rivet between the eyes would have been used to attach them to the belt plate; a second rivet would have gone through the tail of each (2). Out of the head of each cicada springs a decorative band that becomes the stylized head of a dog. The dog's ears are molded, and the eyes are indicated; the long tongue protrudes from the open mouth to form the hook that would fasten to the belt. The bodies of the cicadas are thin metal and hollow on the underside; the neck and head of the dog are solid. The patina on all three pieces is green with some areas of brown; there are areas of exposed metal on the belt plate.

All four hooks in the Harvard collection are the same type and may have been made in the same workshop (3). The hooks may have had additional uses, evidenced by loose examples that have been found in graves and sanctuaries 4). The belts are typically found in male burials, sometimes in pairs (5), and they are depicted on contemporary vase and wall paintings (6).


1. Complete examples with belt hooks of different forms can be seen in the British Museum, London, inv. nos. 1824,0499.4 and 1867,0508.201; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. nos. 08.3a and 1991.171.50. For a general discussion of the object type, see M. Suano, Sabellian-Samnite Bronze Belts in the British Museum, British Museum Occasional Paper 57 (London, 1986).

2. Of the four Samnite belt hooks in Harvard’s collection, only one (associated with 1995.1138) has a preserved tail.

3. Type 4.a; see Suano 1986 (supra 1) 2.

4. Ibid., 22.

5. Ibid., 34. See also G. Heres, “Samnitische Bronzegurtel der Berliner Antikensammlung,” Eirene 17 (1980): 77-88, esp. 78.

6. See Heres 1980 (supra 5) pl. 1 (tomb painting from Capua); G. Schneider-Herrmann, The Samnites of the Fourth Century BC as Depicted on Campanian Vases and in Other Sources (London, 1996) 18-20, pls. 17-26 and 46-47; and R. Benassai, La pittura dei Campani e dei Sanniti (Rome, 2001) 182, 188, and 200-205, figs. 197 and 212-21.

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

  • John Crawford, Sidney Goldstein, George M. A. Hanfmann, John Kroll, Judith Lerner, Miranda Marvin, Charlotte Moore, and Duane Roller, Objects of Ancient Daily Life. A Catalogue of the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection Belonging to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, ed. Jane Waldbaum, Department of the Classics (unpublished manuscript, 1970), M191, p. 210-11 [J. S. Crawford]

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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