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

John Pearce, Gavin Speed, Nicholas J. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-342
Number of pages16
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • amphitheatre
  • barbarian
  • damnatio ad bestias
  • key
  • lion
  • Roman
  • spectacle
  • Leicester


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