This small, rectangular ivory panel (just 57mm long) was found during the excavation of a large Roman townhouse in Leicester’s north-east quarter (today situated beneath the John Lewis car park on Vaughan Way). It is from a box and it is an extraordinary find. Relief-carved ivory boxes are extremely rare discoveries and this fragment is exceptional because of its design. Unusually, instead of belonging to a classical tradition, it depicts the Egyptian god Anubis squatting amongst lotus flowers and grasping a lance in his right hand.
Roman Egypt had a long-established industry producing ivory boxes, but most were decorated with Greek or Roman deities. However, Anubis was popular amongst soldiers in the Roman army and the fact that the figure on this panel is holding a lance may hint at a military connection.
This box would have been an exceedingly rare luxury item even in Egypt, so for it to have made its way to Roman Britain is remarkable. We cannot be certain, but perhaps its owner, an inhabitant of the townhouse, was a wealthy military officer who had served in the eastern legions before moving to Roman Britain.