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Creation Date

5th–7th centuries


Eastern Mediterranean






3 3/8 x 3 13/16 x 1/8 in. (8.6 x 9.7 x 0.3 cm)
4.7 oz. (133.1g)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from Julia Schottlander (Tetragon) in London in 1991.


This breastplate for a horse’s harness is circular in shape, with three rectangular loopholes protruding from the perimeter, and a cross design at the center. While the front is covered in concentric circles, the back has no surface decoration. The breastplate would have been worn in front of the horse's torso and secured around its body. A similar breastplate, discovered in a fifth-century tomb in Nubia and now worn by a model horse in the Cairo Museum, demonstrates how such an object would have been worn. The rider would attach the breastplate to the front of the horse by straps in order to secure the saddle on the back. The breastplate, complete with the harness, gives a glimpse into the decorative elements that were always present with this sort of equipment.

Horse racing was a popular sport in the Byzantine Empire, and the people of Constantinople took seriously every aspect involving their horses, including breeding, training, and health. Trainers were quite superstitious, and would do anything to get ahead, such as using dark magic to their advantage and employing religious symbols to combat these spiritual forces. It was a widely held belief that a cross would ward off evil spirits, and concentric circles—signifying mirrors—also had the power to deflect harm. Therefore, this harness could have been used to banish the unseen spirits away from the horse and the rider for protection in races and in battle.

Sources Consulted
W.B. Emery, and L.P. Kirwan, The Royal Tombs of Ballana and Qustal (Cairo, 1938).

Asen Kirin, ed. Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC (Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2005).

Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989).

Anne McCabe, "The Horses of the Hippodrome," in Hippodrome: A Stage for Istanbul’s History, ed. Brigitte Pitarakis (Istanbul: Pera Museum, 2010), 69–81.

James Whitley, “Agency in Greek Art,” in A Companion to Greek Art, eds Tyler Jo Smith and Dimitris Plantzos (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2013), 579–595.

G.R.H. Wright, "Some Byzantine Bronze Objects from Beycesultan," Anatolian Studies 50 (2000): 159–170.

Kyle J. Casey ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).

2020.123.pdf (537 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Documents

2020.123-back.JPG (3228 kB)
Reverse view

2020.123-scale.JPG (4676 kB)
Scale Comparison