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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Bust Weight of a Figure Wearing a Helmet or Cap
Other Titles
Former Title: Female(?) Bust Weight
Measuring Devices
Work Type
2nd-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
17 x 9.6 x 6.5 cm (6 11/16 x 3 3/4 x 2 9/16 in.)
weight: 1134 g
Technical Details

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

Technical Observations: The patina is green with small areas of red, buff-colored accretions, and small, black spots. Modern sulfide corrosion products are mostly found in the hair. The surface is reasonably well preserved. Crude scratch marks from modern cleaning are present in the chest. Accretions obscure some detail in the hair at the reverse.

The interior surface at the chest follows the exterior shape enough to suggest the wax model may have been made indirectly using a mold. The interior at the neck and face is obscured by core material and accretions. Most of the decorative surface detail appears to have been made in the wax model. Areas in the hair and eyes may have been enhanced in the bronze after casting.

Henry Lie (submitted 2006)


Recorded Ownership History
[Fallani, Rome] (by 1951), sold; to the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1951-2012) 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
The identity of this figure is ambiguous; suggestions include Attis, Mercury (Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), and an anonymous female figure. The Mercury attribution is indicated by the helmet, Venus by the nudity, while the anonymous female label was given by default. Mercury, with his vaunted connections to commerce, was a popular choice for Roman steelyard weights, yet the small but pronounced breasts on this object make this interpretation less likely.

The face has a masculine aspect, with heavy modeling. Two strands of hair trail across the top of the forehead. The eyes seem particularly lumpy, and the brow ridge does not correspond with the location of the eyes, which are themselves not symmetrical. The ambiguities and rough form of the weight suggest that the model may have been reshaped; perhaps a Mercury weight model was reconfigured to depict a woman. The main contours of the piece were coarsely rendered with finer details later incised. The back is hollow and traces of the weight’s lead filling are extant.

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 (1). 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) (2). 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 (3). 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. For steelyards and bust weights in general, see N. Franken, Aequipondia: Figürliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen (Alfter, 1994).

2. See 1995.1131 for an earlier example.

3. 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), M139, p. 193-94 [J. S. Crawford]
  • Norbert Franken, Aequipondia: figürliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen, VDG Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften (Alfter, Germany, 1994), p. 136, no. A 98 (as M 139).

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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