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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Emperor Bust Weight
Measuring Devices
Work Type
second half 1st century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
10.6 x 8.4 x 4.2 cm (4 3/16 x 3 5/16 x 1 5/8 in.)
weight: 988 g
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: zinc, iron
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is green with small areas of light green and dark brown or red. The surface is well preserved. Smooth abrasive wear on high relief points and on the lower part of the bust pre-date burial. Fresh, deep gouges at the left eye, right cheek, and hair above the forehead have no patina and may date to excavation. The hole for the current mounting pin is modern.

Much of the surface detail in this lost-wax cast appears to have been made directly in the wax. It is not possible to determine if the overall shape was cast in a mold or shaped directly in wax. Some of the shallower fine details in the surface were punched with curved and pointed tools into the cast bronze. The 2 x 2 cm patch at the bottom probably covers the hole made in the wax to introduce core into the wax model. The weight is heavy enough that lead may have been used to replace some of this core prior to sealing the hole with this patch.

Henry Lie (submitted 2006)


Recorded Ownership History
H. S. Reitlinger, Maidstone, Kent, UK (d. 1950). [Mathias Komor Fine Arts-Antiquites, New York], by 1954, sold; to The Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University, (1954-2012), 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
This weight is the most finely modeled of the steelyard weights at Harvard. We see the bust of a plump, young emperor, his status marked by both a laurel-wreath crown and armor bearing a gorgoneion. J. S. Crawford, in an unpublished manuscript of the McDaniel collection, suggested that the counterweight represents Nero; however, given the lack of other identifiable portrait types amongst the weights it is more likely to be a more generic imperial image (1). The nose seems flattened or reshaped, and we see similar flattening, or wear, on the face of the gorgoneion. The scale pattern on the figure’s armor is still clearly articulated.

Steelyards were commonly used throughout the ancient Mediterranean. These crossbeams would have a weight, usually in the form of a person or deity, that slid along the bar of the scale to measure bulk goods (2). Not surprisingly, many of the Late Roman and Byzantine examples with known findspots have been found along a coast or in shipwrecks, reflecting their commercial utility. The standard term in English, “steelyard,” is a bit misleading, deriving from the use of similar scales in the area on the north bank of the Thames, London, where steel merchants clustered until 1597. In the Roman period, a wide range of figures was represented on the weights, reflecting the diversity of forms of Roman small bronzes in general. By the fourth to fifth century CE, this multiplicity had narrowed and almost all steelyards used weights represented a generic empress type (e.g., 2007.104.3.A-C) or the goddess Athena (Minerva) (3). Although many late examples have been dated generally to the Late Roman period, the most firmly dated example is from the seventh-century shipwreck of Yassi Ada, off the coast of modern Turkey (4). The holdings of the Harvard Art Museums represent the lively eclecticism of this category of bronze, including busts of an empress type, a Minerva, an emperor and an ambiguous nude.

The basic shape of the bust weights was probably created from the lost-wax process, with later refinements added as the materials cooled. The hollow core was filled with lead to achieve the required weight, and a thin bronze sheet on the bottom capped the lead filling. Variations appear in the manufacture of different categories of the weights. The upper loop, with which the figure would be attached to the upper scale, was aligned in two different directions: the loop on the empress bust weights ran front-to-back, while the Minerva bust weights, in contrast, had a top loop that presents its circular face to the viewer. Furthermore, the Minerva weights possess rectangular socles, and the empress weights have oval socles.


1. Many similar emperor bust weights are known; see N. Franken, Aequipondia: Figürliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen (Alfter, 1994) 44-45 and 141-46, nos. A126-A151, pls. 38-44.

2. For steelyards and bust weights in general, see ibid.

3. See 1995.1131 for an earlier example.

4. G. Kenneth Sams, “The Weighing Implements,” in Yassi Ada: A Seventh-Century Byzantine Shipwreck, eds. G. F. Bass and F. H. Van Doorninck, Jr. (College Station, TX, 1982) 202-30, esp. 224.

Anne L. McClanan

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), M138, p. 192-93 [J. S. Crawford]
  • Hanna Philipp, "Zu einer Gewichtsbüste aus dem Kerameikos", Mitteilungen des Deutschen archäologischen Instituts, athenische Abteilung (1979), Vol. 94, 137-59, pl. 39-46, p. 158, no. 12.
  • Norbert Franken, Aequipondia: figürliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen, VDG Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften (Alfter, Germany, 1994), p. 145, no. A 145 (as M 138).

Exhibition History

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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