Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Roman Lioness in Scotland Volume 50 Number 4, July/August 1997
by Andrew Kasdan

[image]Roman sculpture of lioness taking a bite out of a man's head, found in the River Almond (Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland) [LARGER IMAGE]

A Roman sculpture of a lioness has been found in the River Almond in Cramond, northwest of Edinburgh. Archaeologists, led by Mark Collard of the City of Edinburgh Museums' Archaeological Service and assisted by Fraser Hunter of the National Museums of Scotland, investigated the site after ferryman Robert Graham saw a carved head protruding from the shoreline mud. The white sandstone statue is being conserved by museum personnel.

Dating to the late second or early third century A.D., the sculpture shows a lioness attacking a man, his shoulders pinned by the animal's paws and his head locked in its jaws. Five feet long and two and one-half feet tall, it is intact except for the base. Two snakes were carved beneath the lioness' belly.

The statue is the only one of its kind from Scotland and may have been imported. Lesser examples have been found in England at the tombs of Roman officers and officials, where lionesses, believed to have stood sentry over the tombs, are depicted killing animals. In funerary art, snakes symbolized the good spirit of the deceased and the soul's shedding of the body.

Cramond was a major garrison in the mid-second century but was evacuated ca. A.D. 160 when the Romans retreated to Hadrian's Wall.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America