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Work Weight in the shape of a knucklebone
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran
Weight in the shape of a knucklebone
© 2002 Musée du Louvre / Etienne Revault
Jacques de Morgan found this weight in February 1901 during excavations in the Susa Acropolis. It is one of the largest bronze Greek pieces bearing an inscription currently held in the Louvre. It was dedicated to Apollo in the oracle temple at Didymus by two visitors from Miletus in the third quarter of the 6th century BC. The fact that it was found in Susa illustrates a major episode of ancient Greek history as told by Herodotus.
A Greek knucklebone weight in Susa
In 499 BC, the cities of Ionia followed the example of Miletus and revolted against Persian domination. The uprising was bloodily crushed. In 494 BC, Darius and his army destroyed Miletus and - as was often the case in those times - pillaged the shrine, which was located in the city's territories, taking the most valuable votive offerings back to Susa as booty. Among the pillaged items was this weight, which remained in the Persian capital. The Achaemenid rulers followed the example of their predecessors, displaying the valuable spoils of their victorious expeditions on the Acropolis in Susa.
The Persians kept the ex-voto taken from the temple at Didymus not only because it was a valuable and symbolic object, but probably also because it was thought to be a standard measure of 6,645 Miletian staters (approximately 93 kg), such knucklebone-shaped forms being known in the Middle East. It may indeed have been used in Susa as a weight, as it was found next to a Persian bronze weight in the shape of a lion (Sb2718) that was used as a standard measure of four Persian talents (approximately 120 kg). This second weight also had a handle similar to those found on earlier Assyrian weights discovered in Nimrud and Khorsabad.
The original purpose of the knucklebone
The original purpose of the bronze object can be deduced from the presence of a vertical handle. Such handles are also found on other similar, although generally smaller, objects. Two such knucklebone-shaped objects with inscriptions, found in the temple of Zeus at Olympia, have been positively identified as weights. The vertical handle bears the traces of repeated use, proving that the object was regularly lifted. The value and delicate workmanship of this weight can be explained by the fact that it was made as an ex-voto to be left in a temple as an offering to the deity. The upper part of the weight is inscribed with a dedication, five lines long, around the handle. The inscription was chiseled into the metal surface once it had cooled after being cast. It reads: "These beautiful objects, the produce of the tithe of the harvest, were dedicated to Apollo by Aristolochos and Thrason. Pasikles, son of Kydimeneus, cast them."
A masterpiece by a forgotten artist
The name on this weight is the only surviving trace of the artist Pasikles. He must have been a remarkable craftsman, as is demonstrated by his mastery in casting such a large bronze, controlling the cooling of such a large mass of molten metal, and producing a weight that corresponds precisely to the Miletian system of weights and measures. As such, he belongs to the artists of the Archaic period. Pasikles produced a solid cast using the lost-wax process. His most remarkable achievement, however, was calculating the exact amount of wax needed to produce a metal weight slightly heavier than the desired final weight, so that when he worked on the cooled metal cast, he would be able to bring it down to the precise weight required by paring the underside and back of the object and by polishing it.
BibliographyAndré-Salvini Béatrice, Descamps-Lequime Sophie, Remarks on the Greek (Ionian) bronze knucklebone from Susa, in The First International Conference on the Ancient Cultural Relations between Iran an West Asia, 16-18 août 2003, Téhéran, à paraître en 2004.
André-Salvini Béatrice, Descamps-Lequime Sophie, L'osselet de Suse : une prise de guerre antique, Actualité du département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines n 10 du 12 fév. au 30 juin 2003.
Haussoullier Bernard, Offrande à Apollon Didyméen, in Mission de la Délégation en Perse, VII, E. Bertrand, 1905, pp. 156-162.
Weight in the shape of a knucklebone
The Acropolis, Susa, Iran
H. 27.5 cm; W. 39 cm; L. 24.5 cm
Jacques de Morgan excavations, 1901
Iran, Persian empire during the Achaemenian period: palace of Darius I to Susa, 6th–5th century BC
Room 12 a
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