Steelyard Weight with a Bust of a Byzantine Empress and a Hook

Date: 400–450

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Copper alloy, filled with lead, brass hook

Dimensions: 9 1/2 Γ— 4 1/2 Γ— 2 13/16 in., 12.5 lb. (24.2 Γ— 11.5 Γ— 7.1 cm, 5664g)
Other (Hook): 8 7/8 Γ— 3 Γ— 1 1/4 Γ— 1/4 in., 0.4 lb. (22.6 Γ— 7.6 Γ— 3.2 Γ— 0.7 cm, 176g)

Classification: Metalwork-Copper alloy

Credit Line: Purchase, Gifts of J. Pierpont Morgan, Mrs. Robert J. Levy, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic B. Pratt, George Blumenthal, Coudert Brothers and Mrs. Lucy W. Drexel, by exchange; Bequest of George Blumenthal and Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, by exchange; and Rogers Fund, 1980

Accession Number: 1980.416a, b


This Byzantine steelyard weight dates from the first half of the fifth century. The bronze hook would allow it to be suspended from and moved along a ruled steelyard to measure the weight of a product hung from the opposite end. Empress busts such as this, though usually not so fine, were often used as weights; this one has been filled with lead and driven with several nails to make it weigh exactly seven Byzantine litrae, or 5.04 pounds in modern terms.

Despite the careful modeling of the face and the realistically elaborate clothing and hairstyle, this portrait is too generalized to identify more closely than as a member of the ruling Theodosian dynasty. This is not surprising, as dynastic characteristics are usually emphasized more than individual details in such pieces.