• r2-29-10
    Recumbent lion on plinth from Altar of Cybele, front, three quarter view. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-29-20
    Recumbent lion on plinth from Altar of Cybele, back, three quarter view. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-29-30
    Recumbent lion on plinth from Altar of Cybele, frontal view of lion. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-29-40
    Recumbent lion on plinth from Altar of Cybele, in-situ. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Recumbent Lion on Plinth, South-West Corner of Altar

570-560 BC, Lydian
Manisa, Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum, 5783
Museum Inventory No.
Sardis or Museum Inv. No.
Sandstone, Stone
Object Type
Sculpture Type
Animal, Lion
PN Locus Cybele Altar
B-Grid Coordinates
W267.2 - W267.6 / S339 *87.5
(Fig. 117, in situ).

The two and one half recumbent lions which follow (Cat. 27, Cat. 28, Cat. 29 Figs. 105-117) are from the altar of Kuvava (H. 1.73; L. 3.10; W. 2.05) in the sector PN. They are of very crumbly sandstone. A sample of Cat. 28 (taken Aug. 14, 1975) was determined at the Sardis Laboratory to be sandstone with some calcareous material. The fragility of the stone appears to be the result of fire damage.

The development and dating of the altar are discussed in supra Ch. II, “The Lydian Era.” the lions belong to the original phase of construction; during the reconstruction, they were “carefully surrounded with schist and small limestone chips and immured at the SE and SW and NW corners” (BASOR 191, 12). It is probable that there were originally four lions. In this first phase the altar was made of smaller, more regularly laid stones, faced with white clay ad probably painted. It had an inside area for the burning of offerings, with a cobbled floor at *87; pieces of calcined bone were found on it, covered by eleven alternating levels of ashes and earth (ibid., 11). All lions faced E, as did the sacrifant, who stood on a low step attached to the W side of the altar (ibid., 199, 17; and Fig. 106, reconstruction).

The general appearance of such an altar with four corner lions and possibly its varied colors, imitating brick or stone, are illustrated by the Etruscan painting of a fountain, Tomba dei Tori, Tarquinia, perhaps painted by an Eastern Greek painter around 540 B.C. Imitation of brick pattern was also likely to be promoted by memories of gold bricks used in the pedestal of a lion given by Croesus to Delphi (Hanfmann, Croesus, 14, figs. 33-34). The H. of the altar in its original stage was ca. 1.20.

In 1973, casts made from the preserved lions were given additional restorations and were installed on the altar from which part of the upper, later construction had been removed during excavation. The position of the lions was changed for the sake of visibility so that the SE lion (Cat. 28) was moved to the NE corner (Fig. 105; cf. BASOR 215, 44, n. 25, fig. 17).

The three pieces show slight differences, yet they could all come from the same hand. They certainly come from one workshop. Compared to the stony massivity of the “laughing lion” (Cat. 26 Figs. 102-104), the enlargement of the chest and shoulders, slimming of the lower legs, indication of a “waistline,” and the rounded outlines moving up and down (esp. Figs. 113, 114) represent a considerable advance.

The altar lions belong to the type which Gabelmann, 91ff., has described as “Late Archaic Standard Type” (Einheitstypus). Seen in identical posture, his earliest Ionian example, a lion in Izmir (ibid., no. 126, pl. 25:1; Akurgal, Kunst Anatoliens, 279, fig. 246f., Izmir no. 328), is already more developed in clearer differentiation of mane and a more leonine head. The rear of another lion in Izmir is very similar to those of the altar lions (Gabelmann, Lowenbild, no. 126a, pl. 18:4, Izmir no. 118). Clearly, they belong to the same general regional Eastern Greek-Lydian style as do our pieces Cat. 34 and Cat. 35 (Figs. 125-132).

On very general grounds, Gabelmann dates the Izmir lion about mid-6th C. The misshapen heads, small eyes, sickle-shaped ears of the altar lions seem similar to such lions as those of the Artemisium in Delos (ibid., 74f., pls. 16f.) for which the traditional date of 600 B.C. is too high and Gabelmann’s 550-540 too low; 580-560 should be right. The altar lions have their own dating evidence of pottery from under the altar. This leads to a date of 570, at the latest 560 B.C.

This is the best preserved of the altar lions. It has a full chest, set off from the neck, narrowing body, then ample, rounded haunches. The “spinal ridge” starts on top of the head and goes all the way to the tail. The l. shoulder is clearly set off from the neck and head. The rounded, small eye, encircled by a deep cutting, bestows a malevolent air upon the beast. The ears are plastic, oval shapes. The nose was possibly wrinkled. A step at the upper neck in front and back suggests that a mane might have been intended. Four toes with sharp claws are shown on the forefeet, three on the hind feet (esp. Fig. 116).

N.H. Ramage comments that this SW lion was “more angularly articulated than the SE lion (Cat. 28 Figs. 110-113). Note the ridge down the back, the tail, and edge of the mane on the back; also articulation of shoulder and haunches.” Notable, however is the extraordinary dynamic, alive, moving quality of legs and shoulders in the view across the back from above.

Very crumbly, broken in two parts, about two thirds of forepart of head broken off, particularly on the l. side, all the way across to l. ear but r. eye preserved. Mouth preserved only at the sides. Base of tongue seen at back and parts of two teeth visible in upper jaw. Pointing toward the back of the head, both ears are preserved, except for surface. Also broken, part over r. shoulder and part of l. hindquarter.
H. 0.405; L. 0.54; W. of plinth 0.21.
See Also
See also: LATW Cat. 14
Published: BASOR191, 12, fig. 11, group picture. Lydians and Their World, cat. 14.