Tag Archives: lions

Bronze artifact indicates Romans threw enemies to the lions across their empire, even as far as Britain

Credit: University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

It was rather common during ancient Rome, especially in times of economic hardship, to have prisoners, slaves, criminals, and various enemies of the state executed by feeding them to hungry circus animals, including lions and tigers. This capital punishment, known as Damnatio ad bestias (“condemnation for beasts”), is thought to have been widespread across the Roman empire, but it was only recently that archaeologists have found the first evidence that lions may have been used in executions in Britain.

Archaeologists surveying a site in Leicester came across an elaborately decorated Roman bronze key handle depicting a man locked in pitch battle with a ferocious lion, under the eyes of four naked and fearful youths. According to researchers at King’s College in London, this artifact likely depicts the execution of a ‘barbarian’, the fate of all who dare oppose Rome.

This unique artifact was found buried under the floor of a late Roman townhouse excavated in 2016.

“When first found, it appeared as an indistinguishable bronze object, but after we carefully cleaned off the soil remarkably we revealed several small faces looking back at us, it was absolutely astounding, ” said Dr. Gavin Speed, who led the excavations at a site off Great Central Street in Leicester

“Nothing quite like this has been discovered anywhere in the Roman Empire before.

Credit: University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

The figure portrayed on the bronze key handle displays features typically associated with ‘barbarians’ (basically anyone not Roman or Greek), including a mane-like hair, bushy beard, bulging eyes, and trousers below a naked torso. The lion is about to deliver the killing blow, being wrapped around the body of its victim with its open mouth menacing the side of the head. The four youth witnessing the scene are thought to symbolize the ‘children of the tribe’, their harrowing experience serving as a warning to those who would oppose Roman dominion.

“A cautious reading of the handle would see it as a similarly generic representation of damnatio, albeit an unusually vivid one. However, recent osteological studies give grounds for suggesting that spectacles of this kind involving lethal violence were familiar to British audiences. In particular, the analyses of fragmentary human skeletal material from the London Wall and of skeletons from graves in the cemetery south-west of Roman York have linked them plausibly to arena violence. In both cases the remains are those of adult males of geographically diverse origins and show signs of frequent violent trauma, both over their lifetimes and as the cause of their deaths. One York individual’s pelvis bears possible puncture wounds from an as yet unidentified animal, and so takes us a little closer to a likely spectacle context in which humans met their deaths through violent contact with animals. Taking this evidence into account, and noting the evidence described above for destruction of captives in the provinces as well as in the metropolis, it is not impossible that the handle’s creation was inspired directly by a spectacle located in Britain, even perhaps in the adjacent theatre,” the researchers wrote.

Beautiful mosaic excavations from the opulent Roman home in Leicester where the key was found. Credit: University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

The artifact itself was probably forged a century or more after Britain was conquered by Rome by Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. Judging by its intricate ornaments, this fancy key probably served less of a functional role. Instead, it was probably used like a charm item that granted security and protection to the household.

Besides the exquisite key handle, archaeologists working at the Leicester Roman site also found a wonderfully preserved mosaic floor, roads, and an ancient theater.

The key handle will probably be displayed to the public at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester, following the completion of major refurbishment work expected to be completed by 2023.

The findings were reported in the journal Britannia.

George Adamson — the man who lived with lions

1If you like lions, or watching nature documentaries, the odds are you’ve heard of George Adamson. Nicknamed “Baba ya Simba” (Father of Lions), Adamson lived an amazing life. Best known for his award winning documentary Born Free, he managed to live among lions and make them treat him as equals, resulting in a relationship of mutual trust. He suffered a tragical death, shot by Somalian bandits when coming to the aid of some tourists, and he is now buried in the reserve, next to his lion friend named Boy.

Lions loved him so much they often repaired his car

Lions loved him so much they often repaired his car

He was born in India (British India at the moment) and from his early days you would have never guessed the life he’d live. After a number of jobs that included gold prospector, goat trader and safari hunter, he retired as a game warden in a remote part of Northern Kenya and dedicated pretty much all of his life to lions.


In 1956 he raised Elsa the lioness, who became the subject of Born Free. Elsa was the youngest of three orphaned lions. Adamson and his wife took care of them, sending the largest two to the Rotterdam zoo. However, when Elsa started to cause trouble, the Adamsons were given a choice: either integrate her in the wild in 3 months, or send her to a zoo. His wife opposed sending Elsa to a zoo, and thus a superhuman effort began. At the time, the task was considered borderline impossible, but that didn’t stop them from trying – and succeeding. With mixed feelings, a breaking heart, but most of all, free, Elsa went into the wild.

An affectionate hug from Elsa

An affectionate hug from Elsa


After that, they went for a year to their house in England. Returning in Kenya, they hope to find Elsa; they do, and find her as the mother of three cubs, and she loves them as much as ever. His love for lions is touching and inspiring, and when you gain the trust and respect of Kenyan lions, there’s little else you can achieve in the world. This letter pretty much summarizes his love for the amazing predators:

“‘Naja’ is an excellent and selfless mother. Without her help, none of ‘Koretta’’s’ cubs would have survived… At one time I entertained the suspicion that ‘Blakatan’ was responsible for the loss of ‘Koretta’s’ first litter of four beautiful cubs and that he might have killed and eaten them and I thought seriously about getting rid of him but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was as well that I did so, as he has turned out to be a model and indulgent father, allowing the cubs to rough-house him, pull his tail and bite his ears.”



Lions weren’t the only animals whose trust he’d earned…

Picture sources

Rare white lions go into the wild

In what is the culmination of years and years of work in the White Lion Project, a pride of white lions has been released in the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. The project is sponsored by Shamwari Dubai World Africa Conservation team. Here is a small video of these African white lions.

They have this colour because of a recessive mutant gene, and they’re also called blond lions. This means that if an offspring gets two copies of that recessive gene, he will also have the trait, which in this case is blondness. The pride (which consists of two adult males and two juvenile females) are an addition to the very slim population of white lions.

“I think [the white-lion mutation] might have been observed in a wild population of lions in South Africa. We’ve seen naturally occurring mutations from time to time in the wild,” said George Amato, a conservation biologist and geneticist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but who was not involved in this project.

“The best way to try to create more of them is to inbreed them,” Amato told LiveScience. “But then there are a lot of problems with inbreeding, because not only are you more likely to get two copies of that same mutation [for white coloring], you’re also likely to get two copies of the rare deleterious mutations that all individuals have. That’s generally why inbreeding is bad.”