Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Curb Bit

1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.
Thracian or Celtic
Copper alloy, iron alloy
H. 6 3/8 in. (16.2 cm); W. 6 in. (15.2 cm); Wt. 1 lb. 8.4 oz. (691.7 g)
Equestrian Equipment-Bits
Credit Line:
Gift of Stephen V. Grancsay, 1942
Accession Number:
Not on view
The mouthpiece of this bit consists of a U-shaped high port and small rollers on both sides (one is missing). The small bronze rings on the sides were attached the bridle. The two bronze shanks, from which hooks hang for the reins, are connected by a thick horizontal bar acting as a curb. The curb bar would have pressed the horse’s chin when reins were pulled back.

This object is also an example of the earliest type of curb bit to have been invented. It seems to have developed in the Balkans among Thracian and Scordisci (Eastern Celts) cultures between the 3rd and 1st century B.C. These populations were known for their great equestrian skills, especially at war. Examples of these bits have also occasionally been found in some western Celtic burials dating from the 1st century B.C., but they mostly spread in Roman territories during the conquest, thanks to the Thracian and East Celtic cavalrymen incorporated in the army. Curb bits were actually an improvement in military technology, since they allowed riders to have very good control of their horses with only one hand, freeing the other for holding a weapon. From at least the 1st century B.C., this kind of bit was often associated with a type of leverage cavesson, called a psálion, a metal noseband helping in the control of the horse (see 42.50.527).

This bit is said to have been found in Italy. If true, it might have come from the tomb of a rider of Eastern origin buried there.
Louisville. J. B. Speed Art Museum. "A Loan Exhibition of Equestrian Equipment from the Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 4–July 3, 1955, no. 4.

Grancsay, Stephen V. A Loan Exhibition of Equestrian Equipment from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Catalogue. Louisville, Ky.: Speed Art Museum, 1955. no. 4, ill.

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