Panel with a griffin
In the ancient world, the mythical beasts called griffins were symbols of royalty and protectors of the dead. They continued to play these roles for Christians. A legend popular in the Byzantine era told of griffins carrying Alexander the Great through the heavens so he could view his vast realm. Carved griffins such as the one illustrated here are found on later Byzantine tombs, where they may have been placed to identify the dead of royal status and to afford them protection. The design of the relief is similar to patterns on Byzantine and Islamic silks.