A bear climbs a rocky slope in this life-size Roman statue. The rocky landscape here implies that the animal is in the wild. The statue originally may have been part of a group scene depicting a hunt. Although they do appear in Roman art, bears are rare in large-scale Roman sculpture.
Native to Italy and to most other parts of the Roman Empire, including Asia Minor and Africa, bears were a part of life in the Roman world. They were hunted for sport in the wild, captured live, and then killed in staged hunts that were part of elaborate civic spectacles. They were also occasionally kept as exotic pets.
Bear hunting as a sport was the province of the nobility and in the 100s A.D., under the influence of the emperor Hadrian's enthusiasm for the sport, its popularity increased. The symbolism of the hunt emphasized strength and bravery; the fierceness and nobility of this beast asserted the courage and power of the man able to slay him.