In the early centuries of the Roman Empire, most Romans practiced cremation. However, in the 2nd century A.D., the dominant rite changed to burial and sarcophagi (stone coffins) became fashionable. Since the Romans did not have a strong religious belief in the afterlife, the decoration was usually secular, often depicting subjects derived from Greek mythology, rather than references to death or the afterlife.
Lions were a favorite motif on Roman saracophagi. They appeared in Bacchic processions, or as the prey in elaborate hunt compositions, but were also used in a symbolic sense. Isolated lion heads functioned much like the gorgon apotropaion, a protective device believed to ward off evil. This lion's deeply cut, piercing eyes, and shaggy, drill-worked mane produce an appropriately aggressive image.