© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Square-Based Bell
Other Titles
Alternate Title: coll of Roman and Etruscan Pottery, Glass (bell)
Musical Instruments
Work Type
musical instrument
1st century BCE-4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
5.8 x 4.4 x 4.2 cm (2 5/16 x 1 3/4 x 1 5/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 81.74; Sn, 6.08; Pb, 11.39; Zn, 0.19; Fe, 0.15; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.13; Sb, 0.08; As, 0.19; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.007; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The structure this bell of is in good condition. The remains of a flattened, bent wire (perhaps a replacement) clapper attachment are pushed through a hole at the top of the bell. Most of the bell is covered with tough accretions that hide the original metal surface. The patina is mottled green and brown, with some red cuprite outcroppings.

The relatively even-walled bell was cast in one piece with their handles by the lost-wax process and shows no tool marks. A wire loop on the interior, which was cast together with the bell, was the usual method of attaching the iron clapper (as evident also in the similar bell 1932.56.17). X-radiographs show that the handles of such bells are less dense in their centers where the now-rusted wire was embedded. After the wires had worn through, alternative means of attachment were used: a hole at the top may have been made after the handle broke in order to suspend the clapper. The worn handle confirms a long use.

Francesca G. Bewer

Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
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 bell’s wall is cylindrical at the top and progressively expands into a wide, almost square base, in a smooth, convex curve. A ring handle emerges from the top of the bell, without a visible separation, and is now missing its top. A hole at the top preserved remains of a wire for holding the now-lost clapper, possibly a later repair.

Square-based bells, usually with an angular loop-handle, were common over a long period of time and in many variations throughout the Roman Empire, probably going back to the Hellenistic period. (1).

Bells (Greek: kodon; Latin: tintinnabulum) have been used by many cultures since antiquity, including in the first millennium BCE Near East and the Greek and Roman world (2). Usually made of cast copper alloy with an iron clapper, there are also examples in silver and gold (Persian, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian), iron (Roman), terracotta (Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian), or faience (Egyptian); the latter was probably mostly symbolic rather than functional. For modern copper alloy bells, a ratio of c. 78% copper and 22% tin is considered ideal, but ancient bells usually contain less tin and more lead (3). Ancient bells functioned as signal instruments, but their sound could also have symbolic meaning. Roman bells are attested as announcing the opening of markets and baths and the spraying of streets with water; they awakened and summoned slaves, were worn by horses and other animals, functioned as apotropaic and fertility-related amulets, and played a role in Dionysiac cults especially (4).


1. For square-based bells with “drawn-out” corners, see W. Nowakowski, “Metallglocken aus der römischen Kaiserzeit im europäischen Barbarikum,” Archaeologia Polona 27 (1988): 69-146, esp. 77-78 and 83-86; compare also, for example, V. Galliazzo, Bronzi romani del Museo civico di Treviso (Rome, 1979) 156-57, nos. 2-5; J. Bonnet, P. Velay, and P. Forni, Les bronzes antiques de Paris, Collections du Musée Carnavalet (Paris, 1989) 122, no. 62; H. Menzel, Römische Bronzen aus Deutschland 2: Trier (Mainz, 1966) 84, no. 202, pl. 63; and G. Zampieri and B. Lavarone, eds., Bronzi antichi del Museo Archaeologico di Padova, exh. cat., Museo Archeologico Padova (Rome, 2000) 195, no. 380.

2. On the history of ancient bells and their uses, see A. Villing, “For Whom Did the Bell Toll in Ancient Greece? Archaic and Classical Greek Bells at Sparta and Beyond,” Annual of the British School at Athens 97 (2002): 223-95; M. Trumpf-Lyritzaki, “Glocke,” Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 11 (Stuttgart, 1981) 164-96; N. Spear, jr., A Treasury of Archaeological Bells (New York, 1978); M. Schatkin, “Idiophones of the Ancient World,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 21 (1978): 147-72; and P. Calmeyer, “Glocke,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie 3 (Berlin, 1969) 427-31.

3. For comparative analyses, see H. Drescher, “Rekonstruktionen und Versuche zu frühen Zimbeln und kleinen antiken Glocken,” Saalburg-Jahrbuch 49 (1998): 155-70; K. Bakay, Scythian Rattles in the Carpathian Basin and their Eastern Connections (Budapest, 1971) 93-96; and J. Riederer, “Die Bedeutung der Metallanalyse für die Archäologie,” in Antidoron: Festschrift für Jürgen Thimme (Karlsruhe, 1983) 159-64, esp. 160.

4. See references supra 2, as well as A. Villing, “Glocke,” Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum 5 (Los Angeles, 2005) 379-81; A. R. Furger and C. Schneider, “Die Bronzeglocke aus der Exedra des Tempelareals Sichelen 1,” Jahresberichte aus Augst und Kaiseraugst 14 (1993): 159-72, esp. 166-71; Nowakowski 1988 (supra 1) 82-83 and 133-34; and Galliazzo 1979 (supra 1) 156-58.

Alexandra C. Villing

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