Antiquities > Other Metal Antiquities

Bronze Roman horse (Dragon?) handle - Looking for additional info

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Jj W:
(I'm pasting this same intro into all my first posts to level set. Thanks for your patience)

Hello all,

I'm new here.  Please be kind :)

So I recently found out about auctions for ancient coins and artifacts.  I've mostly just been buying things that feel interesting or give me a good feeling.  I have always loved archeology and history, and also been a minor coin collector since childhood.

I'm not really collecting as an investment, more as a form of time travel.  I just love touching and holding these objects and imagining who may have held it when it was newer.  Having some kind of historical context to these objects is what I am mostly after. 

Also, I am strongly interested in attempting to restore everything to as close to what it looked like when it was new(er).  I don't want to destroy anything, but I also do want to be "aggressive" in the restoration efforts in an attempt to do so.


So with this handle I'm looking for

1. Any info you all might think about it.
     a. The auction description said: "Roman Empire, 1st - 3rd c. AD. Bronze zoomorphic handle fragment of a horse. 60mm x 31mm x 21mm. Dark brown patina. Found in the former Yugoslavia."
     b. TBH it looks more dragon-like to me
     c. The animal seems to have a small object in a holster at it's side.
     d. This handle isn't very big, but I was thinking it might be the handle to a dagger?
2. Best advice to attempt to restore it.
     a. Since it is bronze, I would LOVE to get it to shine up like bronze can.

Thank you for reading and I really do appreciate your time and look forward to learning more and being part of your community.

All the best,
JJ Walker

This is a strange item.  I have never seen its parallel in Roman finds.  But that doesn't mean it is not necessarily genuine.

It is clearly a horse head though.  In the lower image you can see the bridle straps around the head and then extending back.


Jj W:

--- Quote from: otlichnik on October 07, 2021, 07:28:31 pm ---This is a strange item.  I have never seen its parallel in Roman finds.  But that doesn't mean it is not necessarily genuine.

It is clearly a horse head though.  In the lower image you can see the bridle straps around the head and then extending back.


--- End quote ---

Thank you for the response!  That makes me feel actually really great that you haven't seen it's parallel!  I have had good luck with this source I've bought from with other objects and coins so I'll choose to believe it's genuine :). 

So the only reason I thought that maybe it isn't a horse was the shape of the head was longer than what I think of as a horse.  But I don't recall actually much stories including people riding dragons in 1-3rd century Roman stories so I think you're right that it's a horse.

What are your thoughts about that holster on the hip of the horse?  I notice 3 dots there that remind me a lot of the dots that I saw on Roman Legion rings when I was researching the ring I bought/posted on the other forum.  What I saw there was that those dots were often meant to signify which Legion the owner was in (4 dots = 4th Legion, 3 dots = 3rd Legion, etc). 

I'm really trying to figure out what this is a handle for too.  I really want to believe that it was a dagger handle, but it's fairly small.  I tried holding it in such a way, and if it is, it would have had to be for a smaller one (maybe a 5 inch blade). 

Based on what you wrote before about restoration of coins (removing patina), what are your thoughts on doing that for this item?  I saw an incredibly beautiful restoration of a 3000 year old bronze sword here (and attached):

This is what I would just love to do to my bronze items.  I just have no clue how to do it, and what I need to do to it after to prevent decay (renaissance wax?).

With something like that sword the removal of patina is even worse, in my opinion.

I 100% guarantee that the sword as shown on the right is now worth a good deal less than it was as shown on the left.  "Restoration" would have been the removal of dirt, treating any bronze disease, fixing any breaks, etc.  No museum would call creating a bright shiny bronze thing restoration.

With many antiquities the patina is a means of validating its age - even though patinas can be faked they can also give good clues about genuineness.  An entirely patina-less item could be an entirely modern forgery.  You lose one of the few potential pieces of evidence of genuineness. 

As for your item, I am not sure what it is, or what age it is.  Frankly, never seeing a parallel is not a good thing.  Much of what is written about antiquities on the internet consists of uneducated guesses, wishful thinking or outrageous claims made to inflate value or desirability.  The only way to really be safe is to be able to refer to a parallel known from a reputable museum or archaeological report.  Unfortunately, even collector and dealer websites can't be entirely relied upon.  Some are based on good research, others are not.  Claims without evidence aren't worth much.

If you look through this section you can see where we speculate - give educated guesses - about objects.  But this can only result in a tentative ID.  You will also see examples where an exact reference is given.

For example, I am afraid that there is absolutely zero evidence for the "number of dots on rings indicates the legion" idea.  Zero.  Sorry.


Jj W:
Thank you so much for the very thoughtful reply.  I can certainly understand that point of view. 

For me when I see that sword restoration it's incredible.  I can understand how it's value would be lost, as well as any proof of it's age etc.  But to my heart, seeing it in that condition is mind-blowing.  It's one thing to hear "the Bronze Age" and quite another to see a shiny bronze sword that was held in the hands of a warrior likely with other similar bronze items adorning him.  If I could hold that sword in my hand I'd feel transported to his life. 

When I look at the pre-restored version all I feel is that I'm looking at some piece of metal maybe in a museum.  It doesn't really inspire me or reach me in a deeper way.  As humans we do this in so many places (Venice, Paintings, Great Wall, even archeological digs) I think to feel this deeper connection. 

It seems like this comes down to a personal philosophy.  I guess the problem is that folks with my philosophy can end up destroying forever items that those with the opposite philosophy would end up preserving.

The source of this particular item very often has auctions for items recovered from the Balkans that were found together, some of which are legit coins in great condition from a certain time period so I guess this is how they know the time period of the items found with it.


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