Although this bowl comes form the colonies of Northern Africa, the panther would have been a familiar sight across the Roman Empire. The venationes (“hunts”) and other spectacula (“shows”) of ancient Rome saw exotic species (including panthers, elephants, and bears) procured from all corners of the Roman Empire – a conscious demonstration in itself of the nation’s extensive reach and authority – and placed in the amphitheatre for gory entertainment.
Panthers are also notable for their role in Graeco-Roman mythology, often appearing alongside Bacchus (god of wine) in artistic depictions. Indeed, the deity typically wore a panther skin, and so perhaps this bowl enjoyed use in the Dionysian context of a Roman dinner party.
For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.