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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

John Pearce, Gavin Speed, Nicholas J. Cooper

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-342
Number of pages16
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Accepted/In press2021
E-pub ahead of print9 Aug 2021
Published1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

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

King's Authors


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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