Emperor Bust Weight
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Emperor Bust Weight
Other Titles
Former Title: Head of a Youth with Wreath, possibly Nero
Measuring Devices
Work Type
1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Early
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
8 x 6 x 4.7 cm (3 1/8 x 2 3/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 82.71; Sn, 7.95; Pb, 8.98; Zn, 0.115; Fe, 0.09; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.07; As, less than 0.10; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.018; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron, silver, antimony

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The figure features a thin, black patina with bright metal exposed in many areas where the patina has worn off. A very hard accretion layer appears to have been removed from the surface with some areas remaining uncleaned at the sides of the neck and hair. The accretion layer is buff and pink-colored with black and white mineral inclusions. The existing patina shows no green or red corrosion products, and it is probable that the black patina is modern. It could have been added after the surface was stripped of corrosion during a cleaning process aimed at removing the tenacious accretions. Wear at many areas of the surface and pitting from corrosion in the face is consistent with an ancient artifact that has been stripped and re-patinated. The lower edge shows the cast was broken away from a larger object. The distortion in the chest area must have resulted from this breakage and probably dates prior to burial.

The head was hollow cast using an indirect lost-wax technique. At the interior, bits of a buff-colored core material remain, and core pins (3 mm in diameter) not visible at the exterior are present at the back of the head and at the top center of the wreath. The interior surface generally follows the exterior, with a clear indentation at the nose. Wax application marks are present at the interior. Much of the surface detail would have been modeled directly in the cast wax model, and it is possible that some of the finer detail, such as small punch marks, was cold worked in the metal.

Curatorial notes indicate that Prof. C. S. Hurlbut, Jr., of the Geology Department at Harvard University, identified that olivine inclusions in the accretion indicate that they could not be Vesuvian.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Walter C. Baker, New York, (by 1936-1949), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1949.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Walter C. Baker
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 fragmentary bust weight depicts an emperor wearing a laurel-wreath crown and a breastplate, both of which are marked with a rosette. The head, neck, and part of the shoulder and chest are preserved. The proper right shoulder was formerly in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and was given to Harvard in 1972. The scaled breastplate (lorica squamata), is bordered around the neck by a rope-like band. On the preserved shoulder, there is a wavy fillet that has descended from the crown and would have been mirrored by another fillet on the left shoulder (the first loop of the fillet is preserved above the break). A baldric strap runs vertically over the shoulder, with a beaded border on each side and a row of dots in the center possibly to represent stitching and perforations for fastening that would have appeared on a real leather baldric.

The facial features are large and well preserved, although they do not precisely correspond to known imperial portrait types. The emperor’s hair is rendered in thick locks, with individual strands indicated and a pinwheel shape on the back of the head; the coiffure is markedly different from that of 2012.1.97, a second emperor bust weight in Harvard’s collection. Although this bust has often been identified as a Julio-Claudian emperor (1) based on hairstyle, it may be more likely that, like other imperial bust weights, it was meant to represent a generic imperial personage, while the hairstyle reflected what was popular at the time (2).

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 (3). 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) (4). 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 (5). 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. Although, Germanicus, nephew and one-time heir of Tiberius, has also been singled out for having a similar hairstyle; see U. W. Hiesinger, “A Julio-Claudian Bronze Portrait,” in Studies Presented to George M. A. Hanfmann, eds. D. G. Mitten, J. G. Pedley, and J. A. Scott (Cambridge, MA, 1971) 65-67, esp. 66-67.

2. 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.

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

4. See 1995.1131 for an earlier example.

5. 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.

Lisa M. Anderson and Anne L. McClanan

Publication History

Dorothy Kent Hill, Catalogue of Classical Bronze Sculpture in the Walters Art Gallery, The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore, 1949), p. 88, no. 192, pl. 45 (as Inv. 54.2157; fragment of right shoulder only)

Ulrich W. Hiesinger, "A Julio-Claudian Bronze Portrait", Studies Presented to George M. A. Hanfmann, ed. David Gordon Mitten, John Griffiths Pedley, and Jane Ayer Scott, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), 65-67, pl. 26.a-c

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. 11, pl. 41.3.

Norbert Franken, Aequipondia: figürliche Laufgewichte römischer und frühbyzantinischer Schnellwaagen, VDG Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften (Alfter, Germany, 1994), p. 143, no. A135, pl. 40; and p. 146, no. A151.

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2011, p. 33.

Exhibition History

Trade and Markets in Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, Washington, 04/21/2008 - 12/18/2008

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu