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by Stuart Laycock and Chris Marshall 2005

Lion head buckles occur in eastern Britain and in parts of north-east France and north-west Germany. They are much rarer than dolphin buckles. Logically the earliest lion head buckles are those in which the lion heads most closely resemble lions. All such lion head buckles (1, 2) appear to be from continental sources, and it is, therefore likely that the lion head buckles are originally a continental style.

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LM 7.1 LM 7.2

As pointed out elsewhere some of the dragon buckles have a distinctly feline air about them, and it is possible that these heads were the inspiration for the lion head buckles. The reverse process could also be true, but the rarity of lion head buckles makes it more likely that they are the derivatives.

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LM 7.3 LM 7.4

Among the late Roman shield designs listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, there are a distinctive group which show a strange face with wild shaggy hair and beard, but no moustache (3). The design is dissimilar to any other late Roman design. However, one shield design shows a lion head (4) in exactly the same position as the strange human faces and it seems most likely that the human faces are the result of medieval copyists' attempts to interpret what were originally lions' faces. This possibility is supported by the fact that one of the units with the human face symbol is called Leones, Latin for lions. If there were a group of late Roman army units with lion heads as their symbol, it is possible that the lion head buckles may have some connection with them.

Transitional Lion Heads
The lion head style seems to have started to loosen stylistically almost as soon as it appears in Britain, and indeed before. It seems to be a relatively short lived style. Only one example of an open loop lion head buckle (5) is known, the others are all closed loop, and it may be that the only buckles to reach Britain from the continent were types where lion heads were already becoming less distinctly lion-like.

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LM 7.5 LM 7.6

All lion head types where the lion heads are clearly lions are continental. The clearest lion heads in Britain come on a single buckle from East Suffolk (6), and the size of this buckle, larger than many similar British types, suggests that even this may be an import. In fact, often the only way to identify British lion head buckles is from their distinctive mane. Compare the Catterick buckle (7) with continental examples (5, 8). Compare the Ickham buckle (9) with a continental example (10).

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LM 7.7 LM 7.8 LM 7.9 LM 7.10

Eventually this process of stylistic transition reaches a stage where it becomes almost impossible to distinguish buckles originating from lion heads from buckles originating from dolphins. This process is seen in Britain particularly in southern East Anglia where a cluster of these transitional types occurs (11, 12, 13, 14, 15). An almost identical buckle (16) was located among a group of finds originating probably from the Rhineland.

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LM 7.11 LM 7.12 LM 7.13
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LM 7.14 LM 7.15 LM 7.16

7.1 Width not known, found region of Bourges, France, private collection; 7.2 Width 38mm, found Trier, Germanyredrawn after M. Sommer; 7.3 Redrawn after Barker; 7.4 Redrawn after Barker; 7.5 Width 51mm, Champdolent, St. Germain-Les-Corbeil, France, redrawn after Hawkes & Dunning; 7.6 Width 33mm, found East Suffolk, collection of Stuart Laycock; 7.7 Width 39mm, found Catterick, Yorks., redrawn after Hawkes & Dunning; 7.8 Width 43mm, found Mt. Chepries (Dep. Oise), France, redrawn after Sommer; 7.9 Width not known, found Ickham, Kent, redrawn after Swift; 7.10 Width 32mm, found Macedonia, private collection; 7.11 Width 30mm, found Braiseworth, Suffolk, collection of Stuart Laycock; 7.12 Width 33mm, found Saham Toney, Norfolk, collection of Stuart Laycock; 7.13 Width 32mm, found Linstead, Suffolk, redrawn after PAS - SF-FEF8D7; 7.14 Width 30mm, found not known, collection of Stuart Laycock; 7.15 Width 30mm, found East Anglia, collection of Stuart Laycock; 7.16 Width not known, probably found Rhineland, redrawn after eBay.

Barker P. - The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome (1981)
Hawkes S.C & Dunning G.C. - Soldiers & Settlers in Britain, Fourth to Fifth Century - Medieval Archaeology 5 (1961)
Sommer M. - Die G?rtel und G?rtelbeschl?ge des 4. und 5. Jahrhunderts im R?mischen Reich. (1984)
Swift E. - The End of the Western Roman Empire (2000)

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Copyright © May 2005, Laycock & Marshall, All Rights Reserved.