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At Death's Door: A Scene of Damnatio ad Bestias on a Key Handle from Leicester

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2021

John Pearce
Department of Classics, King's College London
Gavin Speed
University of Leicester Archaeological Services
Nicholas J. Cooper
University of Leicester Archaeological Services


A decorated copper-alloy key handle was recovered during excavation of a town house in Roman Leicester (Ratae Corieltavorum). The decoration comprises two groups of figures modelled in high relief: a bearded, unarmed man fighting with a lion, arranged above four naked male youths embracing one another in a protective manner. This decoration cannot be paralleled among other similarly elaborate Roman key handles and is best interpreted as a scene of damnatio ad bestias, although it does not directly replicate other known scenes of this punishment and spectacle. Other readings of the image are possible, depending on the context and perspective of the viewer as they handled the object.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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