Lions in ancient Rome

By simplissimus, in 'Latin Culture', Jan 2, 2017.

  1. simplissimus Member

    I just finished binge-watching the HBO series Rome, now on DVD. One silly little thing bothered me all through it. The sets are fantastic and everything looks exactly as I suppose ancient Rome would have, except for the lions. There are lion-head doorknockers, statues of lions in the Senate, and in various other places. The problem for me is this: they all look like modern Aftican lions. I do not remember ever having seen a modern-looking lion in ancient art -- nor even through the Rennaissance. All of the representations of lions I have ever seen had short snouts, rather than long ones, and a shorter mane of curly hair, rather than of long flowing hair as one sees in lions today. I assumed that artist in those days depicted them that way because they had never seen a real lion and were basing their depictions on verbal descriptions. Then I saw such a lion -- short snout, a mane of short curly hair -- in the museum in Pittsburgh. The lion was a taxidermied one from the nineteenth century, set up in a tableau showing a lion pouncing on an Arab riding a camel. The description explained that such narrative taxidermied tableaus were very popular in the 1800's, and that the lion was a North African type of lion tha was now extinct.

    How about any of you? Can you let me know about any ancient representations of a lion of the modern modern type?
  2. Aurifex Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    It's likely that the lion most familiar to the ancient Romans was the subspecies Panther leo europaea. This became extinct around 100 A.D. and it may have been different enough from the African lions we're most familiar with to account for the anomaly you've observed.

    On the other hand, it has to be said that until the scientific age graphic representations of animals in art did frequently lack verisimilitude.
    Godmy likes this.
  3. Hawkwood .

    • Civis
    Interesting. So the famous bust of Commodus as Hercules, would that skin be a depiction of a European lion? Just wondering. It was sculpted around a century after they fell extint by what Aurifex said. I never realized we ever had lions in europe.
  4. Aurifex Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    Impossible to say. Presumably the Romans had long been familiar with African lions as well as European ones anyway.
  5. AoM Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Hawkwood likes this.
  6. rothbard Member

    I wonder if that's the same animal Cicero talks about here (Ad Familiares, 2.11).
  7. Aurifex Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    If you mean is Cicero using panthera for leo, I think that's unlikely.

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