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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Bifurcated Probe
Other Titles
Former Title: Two-Ended Implement
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
medical instrument
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Rome (Latium)
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
13.3 x 0.5 cm (5 1/4 x 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is pitted brown with green corrosion and grayish encrustations. Deformations are present, but the object is basically intact. The implement was cast and then hammered to further shape the round shaft and squared tines.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Harold Wilmerding Bell, Cambridge, MA (by 1911), gift; to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1911-1977), transfer; to the Fogg Museum.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Gift of H. W. Bell
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 bifurcated probe has a two-tined fork on one end and a sharp-pointed tip on the other. The slender, undecorated shaft is slightly bent. J. S. Milne connects bifurcated probes with the type of instrument used by Hippocrates for extracting polyps from the mouth but also notes an example, similar to the Harvard piece that may be a type of needle (1).

Greek and Roman medical instruments, many of which were described by ancient authors, have been found, sometimes in sets, throughout the ancient world (2). The instruments could have been used for more than one function, making precise classification difficult in some instances. Probes had various uses and came in many types, some with scoops on the end (ligulae) or with a flatted end (spatulae), others with olivary probes on both ends. The probe ends could be used for searching wounds or applying medicines (3). The probes might also have been used for grinding and mixing cosmetics (4).


1. Compare J. S. Milne, Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times (Oxford, 1907) 83-84, pls. 21-22, esp. 21.3 and 22.4.

2. Milne 1907 (supra 1) 1-9; and D. Michaelides, “A Roman Surgeon’s Tomb from Nea Paphos,” Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1984: 315-32, esp. 321-23.

3. Michaelides 1984 (supra 2) 315-32, esp. 324-25.

4. L. J. Bliquez, Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Mainz, 1994) 52.

Lisa M. Anderson and David Smart

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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