The first Lebetes Mystery

8 Jul

Amongst the most outstanding objects from the Regolini-Galassi tomb are the three lebetes (bronze cauldrons). Two of these lebetes are nearly identical and have five protruding lion heads, the third one is smaller and carries six griffin heads, looking inwards.

5-headed lebeti

One of the two bronze lebetes with 5 lion heads

6-headed lebeti with dragons

Bronze lebes with 6 griffin heads

detail lion head

Detail of one of the lion heads of the larger lebes

detail dragon head

Detail of one of the griffin heads of the smaller lebes

When looking into all available sources to position these lebetes in the tomb, some really tough questions pop up.  First of all, in none of the drawings we find all three lebetes.  In the very first drawings of the tomb layout by Grifi, two lebetes are depicted (see image below, letters O and P).  The legend that goes with the drawing says O is the large lebes while P is the small lebes.  This is the oldest and most precise localisation of two of the lebetes, in other words the most probable localisation, so we will take this as the basis for the virtual reconstruction.  The inconsistency that the smaller lebes (having 6 heads) is depicted with only 5 heads (see below, letter P) is probably due to a misunderstanding with the person who made the engraving, this kind of error is quite common when a third person is making the drawing.

detail RG tomb plan Grifi 1836

Detail of the cella of the RG tomb by Grifi

But where is the third lebes with the lion heads ?  None of the available drawings ever shows three lebetes… None of the reports or texts talks about this third lebes…  When looking in detail to both lebetes with lion heads, we cannot find any difference, so these heads need to have been cast from the same mold, and they need to have been produced together, so chances are very high they were placed together in the tomb. But why did the excavators not report they had found two identical lebetes together?

A possible explanation could be the following.  When the princess was buried in the cella, one lebes with lion heads was placed inside the cella (that was closed with large stones, only leaving a small window open) and one outside the cella. These lebetes were probably used as incense burners, to mask the odour of the decaying body.  When the prince was buried later on, the lebes outside the cella could have been put aside (for example in the left hand niche) to make place for the objects of the prince.  But this is only guessing, we will never know…

So we will adapt the 3D draft reconstruction to reflect these conclusions. Next post is about the second Lebetes Mystery…

This blog is part of the Etruscanning project, that is been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


One Response to “The first Lebetes Mystery”


  1. Objects do speak « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - August 20, 2011

    […] is deformed globally and has specific corrosion and deformation marks.  The second object is a bronze lebete, a cauldron that was used to cook and serve food. Corrosion and deformation marks on a bronze […]

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