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Work Roofed spherical sundial

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Cadran solaire

© 2000 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This sundial dates from the imperial era and is an exceptional example of a scaphe, or bowl sundial, with a hole to let through a ray of sunlight. The interior is engraved with lines and inscriptions in Greek; the spot lit by the sunbeam would give the month, day, and hour. This sundial is in the shape of a skyphos or drinking vessel, a fashionable shape for luxury Roman tableware at the end of the republic. The exterior is decorated with oak twigs and acorns.

Shape and ornamentation inspired by luxury tableware

This sundial is in the form of a skyphos, a style of deep drinking vessel that was a very fashionable item of luxury Roman tableware in the final years of the republic and the 1st century AD. The Boscoreale Treasure, a trove of silverware now in the Louvre, contains similar examples. The vessel has a handle on each side. The exterior of the marble bowl is decorated with concentric moldings, and, as with similar vessels made of metal, the sides are decorated with a carved foliage motif, in this case oak twigs with acorns. On one side of the vessel are a round hole and a thick tenon, which would originally have been part of a mortise and tenon joint attaching the sundial to its pedestal.

How the sundial worked

The sundial was positioned vertically with the hole uppermost and the concave bowl facing the observer. The interior of the bowl is engraved with a network of curving lines accompanied by Greek inscriptions, some abbreviated, giving the dates of the Roman calendar. The broadest division corresponds to the summer solstice, 24 June, and the narrowest the winter solstice, 25 December.The fan of eleven lines dividing the curving sections marks the length of the twelve daytime hours of the Roman day, which were longer in summer and shorter in winter. The hole in the vessel let through a ray of sunlight that marked the month, day, and hour, moving round the bowl as the position of the sun changed. The opening would originally have been partly closed off with a bronze plaque, restricting the opening and thus focusing the beam more precisely, but this has been lost. The sundial was made for use at a latitude of 41 . If it was found in Carthage, which is at a lower latitude, it must have been transported there after manufacture.

The typology and date of the sundial

The ninth book of De Architectura, written by Vitruvius in the first century BC, is a key source of information about the use of sundials in antiquity. Vitruvius, a Roman engineer, listed the different types of sundial, but the descriptions are unclear, making it difficult to determine what sort of dial the work now in the Louvre originally would have been called. The complex web of lines on the inner surface of the bowl are similar to the description of the type of dial that Vitruvius termed arachne, the spider, attributing its invention to the astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus in the 4th century BC. It seems more likely, however, that the sundial is the common scaphe type (from the Greek skaphein, to hollow out). Scaphes were bowl sundials with a hole letting through a ray of light. The shape of the vessel, the style of ornamentation, and the inscriptions seem to indicate that the object dates from the imperial era, some time in the 1st or 2nd century AD. The fact that the month of August is named augustus indicates that the piece dates from after 8 BC, when the month sextilis was renamed in honor of the emperor Augustus.


Savoie (D.), Lehoucq (R.), "Etude gnomique d'un cadran solaire découvert à Carthage", in Revue d'Archéométrie, 25, 2001, p. 25-34
Pasquier (A.), "Un cadran solaire d'exception pour le département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines. Un don des Amis du Louvre", in Revue du Louvre, 2000, 3, p. 13-15, fig. 1-3
Pasquier (A.), "Du soleil dans une coupe : une nouvelle horloge romaine au Musée du Louvre", in Comptes rendus des séances de l'année de l'Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 2, 2000, p. 643-655

Technical description

  • Cadran solaire

    Ier - IIe siècle après J.-C.

    Trouvé à Carthage ?

  • Marbre

    H. : 30 cm. ; L. : 73 cm.

  • Don de la Société des Amis du Louvre, 1999 , 1999

    N° d'entrée MNE 1178 (n° usuel Ma 5074)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Roman Art. Julio-Claudian period I
    Room 410

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