The Lion-headed god
In the mithraeums excavated so far, we find statues of a number of figures. These include Mithras, and his associates Cautes and Cautopates; and also sometimes other standard deities like Mercury.
In a significant number of mithraeums, there is a statue of a bizarre figure, whom it is difficult to identify.
The iconography of this figure is not always consistent. In a great number of cases it is a male figure with the head of a lion (sometimes instead with a human head but the lion's head on its breast), wings, and with the body of a serpent twined around it. Often it carries keys in both hands, which it presents in front of it.
There are no painted depictions of this figure, and it is not referred to in the literary sources. Only one of the statues, CIMRM 833 has a fragmentary name on it. This appears to be "Areimanius", but this may be the name of the donor of the monument.
Scholars have tended to refer to this figure as a personification of time, either Chronos or Aion. This identification is based on a passage in Damascius Diodochos, the 6th century philosopher, in which he recounts some Orphic teachings and describes Chronos as having the head of a lion or a bull:1
But as for the third principle after the two, it arose from these, I mean from water and earth, and it is a serpent with the heads of a lion and a bull grown upon it. and in the middle the countenance of a god, and it has wings on its shoulders, and the same god is called Ageless Time [Aion], and Heracles.
However this is a very late source indeed, and may not refer to anything known in the Roman world five centuries earlier.
Nonnus, a similarly late source, mentions Aion holding keys:2
But Time the maniform, holding the key of generation, spread his white shock of hair over the knees of Zeus, let fall the flowing mass of his beard in supplication...
Some scholars have favoured the identification with Aion, the personification of eternal time. It was Zoega who first suggested that the figure should be called Aion.3 However there are only two monuments in which a figure is labelled as "Aion", both badly damaged. The first of these is a mosaic uncovered in 1939 at Antioch on the Orontes, and depicts the head of an old man whose hand rests on what seems to be a circle or loop. The second ... 4
2. Gallery of statues
Here are some of the monuments of the lion-headed god.