obverse © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Justin II, Byzantine (r. 565 - 578 CE)
Three-Ounce Weight with Imperial Busts of Justin II, Sophia and Justinian(?)
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
16 March 575 CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
h. 4 x w. 4 x d. 0.4 cm (1 9/16 x 1 9/16 x 3/16 in.)
78.46 g
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Cu, 76.23; Sn, 3.88; Pb, 13.29; Zn, 5.84; Fe, 0.29; Ni, 0.09; Ag, 0.15; Sb, 0.11; As, 0.12; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.01; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Comments: This was not supposed to be sampled; the sample may have been taken from another object and mislabeled.

Technical Observations: The patina is dark green with spots of red. White accretions are also present in the inscribed lines. All edges are smooth from handling. The incised lines have been roughly cleaned, making it difficult to see the nature of the surfaces and ascertain how the lines were made. Gouges at the back may be from finishing the back surface or from use.

The object was probably cast from a directly formed wax model. The inscribed lines and decoration were probably made in the wax model, but the object is not in good enough condition to be sure.

Henry Lie (submitted 2005)

Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: in Greek, in five lines:
    ΓΟ / Γ [three ounces]
    [Translation: in the time of the wholly blessed and best disposed (of men) Iulianos, stratelates, on the twentieth of Phamenoth, eighth indiction.]
    [Note that the omicron and upsilon at the end of the fourth line are in ligature.]
Thomas Whittemore (by 1950), bequest; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1951.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
DOC I, 204-217
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Thomas Whittemore
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 flat square weight was used for weighing coins on a balance scale. The inscription provides unusually detailed and precise information concerning the object’s date of issue: twentieth of Phamenoth, eighth indiction (16 March 575 CE). It is rare for early Byzantine weights to be dated to the year, let alone the exact day (1). Furthermore, the weight reveals its Egyptian origin through the calendar system used in the inscription; Phamenoth is the fifth month of the Egyptian calendar.

Byzantine coin weights are often decorated with the images or names of the individual under whose authority the weight was issued. In this instance, the inscription designates one Iulianos, who possesses the relatively low-ranking title of stratelates and was likely a provincial governor or local official. Two of the three figures on the obverse represent the imperial pair Justin II (r. 565-78 CE) and Sophia. As senior emperor, Justin II holds the preeminent position at center, while the empress Sophia appears to his left. Both wear three-pronged crowns; Justin’s is decorated with pendilia (embellishments hanging from the temples). The iconography of the object is unusual; bronze weights from the reign of Justin II and Sophia typically feature only the two rulers with their monogram and an inscription providing the date (2). A third figure appears to Justin’s right and is nimbed but uncrowned. This may be the local authority, Iulianos, mentioned in the inscription (3). Alternatively it could depict Tiberios, who was appointed caesar (junior emperor) on 7 December 574 CE, just three months before this weight was issued. In this case, the lack of a crown would indicate Tiberios’ junior status (4). Tiberios was selected as co-ruler by Sophia, who increasingly assumed imperial authority when Justin II’s mental health declined sharply during the early 570s CE (5). This weight provides what would be the only known image of the imperial triad.


1. For discussion of the date, see F. Heintz, “Investigating a Unique Byzantine Weight,” The Celator 14.10 (2000): 26-28.

2. S. Bendall, Byzantine Weights: An Introduction (London, 1996) 44-45, no. 117. In bronze coinage issued during the reign of Justin II and Sophia, the couple appears enthroned side by side. See A. Bellinger, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection 1: Anastasius I to Maurice 491-602 (Washington, DC, 1966) 204-17, pls. 50-52. On the Harvard weight as well as in coinage, Sophia appears to Justin’s left. Although Justin assumes the position of greater importance, Sophia’s presence is nonetheless significant; the empress had never before been represented so prominently on the obverse of coins.

3. I. Kalavrezou, ed., Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002) 57.

4. During his joint rule with Justin II, Tiberios appeared only rarely on imperial coins, for example, in a solidus issued from Antioch in Syria. See Bellinger 1996 (supra 2) 204-17, pls. 50-52, and 263 n.2.

5. The matter of who actually wielded power during the reign of Justin II finds its visual expression in joint representations of Justin and Sophia on imperial objects of this era. See A. Cameron, “Notes on the Sophiae, the Sophianae, and the Harbor of Sophia,” Byzantion 37 (1967): 11-20; ead., “The Empress Sophia,” Byzantion 45 (1975): 5-21; and A. McClanan, Representations of Early Byzantine Empresses: Image and Empire (New York, 2002) 149-78.

Florent Heintz

Publication History

Florent Heintz, "Investigating a Unique Byzantine Weight.", The Celator (2000), Vol. 14, No. 10, p. 26-28.

Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 57, no. 15.

Exhibition History

Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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