Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Attachment from the Balteus of a Horse in the Form of a Legionary
Riding Equipment
Work Type
2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
11.1 x 6.3 x 3.7 cm (4 3/8 x 2 7/16 x 1 7/16 in.)
Technical Details

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

Technical Observations: This solid cast statuette was probably made using an indirect lost-wax process, with some details in the face, hands, and clothing made directly in the wax model. The left foot and any implements that the figure may have held are lost. A slight twist in the ankle of the missing left foot indicates that this was the result of damage rather than a casting flaw. There are a number of small holes in the surface resulting from a relatively porous casting. Deep indentations shaped at the back of the tunic were likely intended for attachment to another object rather than resulting from a casting flaw. There is a modern mounting pin in the right foot. The patina is green with small areas of red. Spots of iron oxide are present on the right arm and leg. Sixty percent of the surface is covered with gray burial accretions.

Henry Lie (submitted 2005)

From the collection of Lilian and Benjamin Hertzberg.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg
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 legionary wears a helmet with cheek plates. A ridge on the top of the helmet indicates where a crest, now missing, was attached. The front of the helmet is open. The nose is prominent, and the eyebrows are defined by a horizontal ridge running the width of the forehead. Tiny drill holes form the eyes, and a small, incised line marks the mouth.

The figure wears the typical dress of a Roman legionary. An undecorated cuirass, or breastplate, covers his chest and abdomen, delineating the muscles of the torso. Raised bands mark the edges at the neck and shoulders. Pteryges (strips of layered leather or fabric) protect the thighs and upper arms; a short row covers his lower abdomen, while a longer row underneath extends to his knee. An armband is indicated below the pteryges on either shoulder. Faint lines on the upper part of his right foot may represent a sandal; the left foot is broken off.

The figure lunges to his right, with the head turned toward the right shoulder, while his body is frontal. He raises his bent right arm in front of his torso, and inscribed lines on his fist indicate fingers. The left leg extends backwards, nearly straight. The left arm is also held back and slightly bent, while the hand is missing; a hole (c. 0.3 cm in diameter) is preserved at the end of the arm. The figure probably held a shield in this hand, similar to a more complete figure in the same pose in Bologna (1). The back of the figure is flattened and finished for attachment. A triangular hole (c. 1.4 cm high and 0.9 cm wide) is present in the lower part of the torso and was intended to receive a peg (2).

This figure once decorated a balteus, or breastplate, for a horse and would have attached to a metal plate, which would have been riveted to a leather belt around the horse’s neck. Baltei of this type generally depicted battle scenes of Romans fighting barbarians, and surviving examples show surprisingly little variation in the types of figures and their composition (3). The Harvard figure likely engaged a barbarian in single combat, possibly positioned on the center of the balteus similar to examples from Elea and Aosta (4). Horse armor with such elaborate decoration was clearly a valuable possession. Although intended for protection and probably a required item of equipment, each balteus was likely chosen by an individual soldier according to his own taste and wealth.


1. See U. Kreilinger, Römische Bronzeappliken: Historische Reliefs im Kleinformat, Archäologie und Geschichte 6 (Heidelberg, 1996) 179, no. 40, pl. 19 (=M. Vergnari, ed., Arte e civiltà romana nell’Italia settentrionale dalla repubblica alla tetrarchia [Bologna, 1964] 280, no. 380, pl. 132.269), for a very similar figure with the crest on the helmet and shield preserved in his left hand. This example dates to the first decade of the second century CE. For another close parallel, although lacking a shield, from Elea, see E. Walde, “Der Prunkbalteus aus Elea,” in Griechische und römische Statuetten und Grossbronzen: Akten der 9. Internationalen Tagung über antike Bronzen, Wein, 21.-25. April 1986, eds. K. Gschwantler and A. Bernhard-Walcher (Vienna, 1988) 323-29, esp. 326, fig. 8. Kreilinger 1996 (supra) provides a recent overview of the full repertoire of balteus decorations.

2. For an example of a complete balteus in Aosta, see C. Carducci, “Un balteus da Aosta,” Archeologia Classica 11 (1959): 36-49, pls. 21-27, esp. pl. 22, which shows how the figures are attached. The ends of the bronze pegs are visible on the backside of the plate. See Walde 1988 (supra 1) 326, fig. 11, for an example where the attachments on the figurine are preserved.

3. The most elaborate of those recovered is a set of bronze figurines from a balteus found in the area of the so-called agora at Elea (modern Velia in the province of Salerno, Italy); see ibid., 328, fig. 16, for an ensemble of 13 figures. While the example from Elea lacks the actual breastplate, a few complete examples do exist, with similar figures also arranged in a battle scene; see F. Braemer, “Le balteus et ses problèmes,” in Akten der 10. Internationalen Tagung über antike Bronzen: Freiburg, 18.-22. Juli 1988, ed. J. Ronke (Stuttgart, 1994) 75-95, esp. 75, fig. 1, and 77, fig. 2, in the Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia; 77, fig. 3, and 79, fig. 4, in the Museo Archeologico Regionale della Valle d’Aosta. See also Carducci 1959 (supra 2) pl. 21 (Aosta), and pl. 24, no. 1 (Brescia). Common figures include armed soldiers on horseback and fallen barbarians. Most prominent however is a central victorious cavalryman, unarmed with right arm raised and cloak flying back; see Walde 1988 (supra 1) 325, fig. 7 (from Elea), and 329 n.9, for comparanda in Vienna, Turin, Brescia, and Aosta. The same objects are also published in Braemer 1994 (supra) 75, 77, 80, and 82; figs. 1, 3, 5, and 9; and in Carducci 1959 (supra 2) pl. 24.1-4, pl. 26.2-4, and pl. 27.2. For an additional example, see H. Menzel, “Beschlag von einem Balteus,” Römisches Österreich 17-18 (1989-1990): 185-87, pls. 19-20.

4. For the Elea composition, see Walde 1988 (supra 1) 328, fig. 16. This group includes a close parallel to the Harvard legionary, wearing a helmet complete with crest (ibid., 326, fig. 8). For Aosta, see Carducci 1959 (supra 2) pls. 21 and 27.2.

Alexis Belis

Publication History

David Gordon Mitten and Suzannah F. Doeringer, Master Bronzes from the Classical World, exh. cat., Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz am Rhein, Germany, 1967), p. 282, no. 276.

Ulla Kreilinger, Römische Bronzeappliken: Historische Reliefs im Kleinformat, Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte (Heidelberg, 1996), pp. 34, 45, 49, 119, and 179, no. 41, pl. 19.

Exhibition History

Master Bronzes from the Classical World, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/04/1967 - 01/23/1968; City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 03/01/1968 - 04/13/1968; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 05/08/1968 - 06/30/1968

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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