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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stone sarcophagus of Pharaoh Merenptah.

A sarcophagus is a funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved or cut from stone. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σαρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγειν phagein meaning "to eat", hence sarkophagus means "flesh-eating"; from the phrase lithos sarkophagos. (λιθος σαρκοφάγος) The word came to refer to the limestone that was thought to decompose the flesh of corpses interred within it.[1][2]


Common forms

Roman-era sarcophagi at Worms, Germany.

Sarcophagi were most often designed to remain above ground, hence were often ornately carved, decorated or elaborately constructed. Some were built to be freestanding, as a part of an elaborate tomb or series of tombs, while others were intended for placement in crypts. In Ancient Egypt, a sarcophagus formed the external layer of protection for a royal mummy, with several layers of coffins nested within, and was often carved out of alabaster.

Sarcophagi – sometimes metal or plaster as well as limestone – were also used by the ancient Romans until the early Christian burial preference for interment underground, often in a limestone sepulchre, led to their falling out of favor.[2]

Constantinople Christian sarcophagus with XI monogram, circa 400.

See also

Gallo-Roman Christian sarcophagus, Rignieux-le-Franc (Ain), end of 4th century. Louvre Museum.
Detail of a stone sarcophagus in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum showing a hunting scene.


  1. ^ WordInfo etymology. As a noun the Greek term was further adopted to mean "coffin" and was carried over into Latin, where it was used in the phrase lapis sarcophagus, referring to those same properties of limestone.
  2. ^ a b Columbia University Department of Archaeology

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SARCOPHAGUS (Gr. aapxociayos, literally "flesh-eating," from afip , flesh, cbayeiv, to eat), the name given to a coffin in stone, which on account of its caustic qualities, according to Pliny (H.N. xxxvi. 27), consumed the body in forty days; also by the. Greeks to a sepulchral chest, in stone or other material, which was more or less enriched with ornament and sculpture. One of the finest examples known is the sarcophagus of Seti, the second king of the XIX. Egyptian dynasty (1326-1300 B.C.), which is carved out of a block of Aragonite or hard carbonate of lime, now in the Soane Museum; of later date are the green porphyry sarcophagus and the terra-cotta sarcophagus from Clazomenae; both of these date from the early 6th century B.C., and are in the British Museum. The finest Greek examples are those found at Sidon in 1887 by Hamdy Bey, which are now in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople (see Greek Art). Of Etruscan sarcophagi there are numerous examples in terracotta; occasionally they are miniature representations of temples, and sometimes in the form of a couch on which rest figures of the deceased; one of these in the British Museum dates from 500 B.C. The earliest Roman sarcophagus is that of Scipio in the Vatican (3rd century B.C.), carved in peperino stone. Of later Roman sarcophagi, there is an immense series enriched with figures in high relief, of which the chief are the Niobid example in the Lateran, the Lycomedes sarcophagus in the Capitol, the Penthesilea sarcophagus in the Vatican, and the immense sarcophagus representing a battle of the Romans and the barbarians in the Museo delle Terme. In later Roman work there was a great decadence in the sculpture, so that in the following centuries recourse was had to the red Egyptian porphyry, of which the sarcophagi of Constantia (A.D. 355) and of the empress Helena (A.D. 589), both in the Vatican, are fine examples. Of later date, during the Byzantine period, there is a large series either in museums or in the cloisters of the Italian churches. They are generally decorated with a series of niches with figures in them, divided by small attached shafts with semicircular or sloping covers carved with religious emblems, one of the best examples being the sarcophagus of Sta Barbara, dating from the beginning of the 6th century, at Ravenna, where there are many others. The term sarcophagus is sometimes applied also to an altar tomb.

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