Daily Life


When students visit the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, they often have lots of questions about this sarcophagus. Let's take a closer look...

This sarcophagus is made of marble and decorated on three sides - the back is roughly finished. We can assume that it was made to be placed against a wall in a tomb. Originally, it would have had a lid, which was probably flat or low-pitched (like a roof).

Sarcophagi were made by artists in workshops. Some were luxury pieces of exquisite quality commissioned by wealthy patrons. Most, like our example in Rochester, were mass-produced to be purchased when needed.

Face After it was purchased, the sarcophagus was personalized. In this case, with a portrait of the deceased placed in a round frame. Sometimes inscriptions about the deceased were added. On this sarcophagus, the name of the deceased was probably carved on the lid, but it is lost to us now.

Below the portrait we see a shepherd seated in a landscape with sheep. Shepherds were common subjects in Roman funerary art for both pagan and early Christian burials.

The s-shaped carvings on the surface of the sarcophagus were another common form of decoration. Scholars call them "strigillated" because the carvings look as though they were made by a strigil.
Lion Head The lion-head medallions may be copied from the metal handles on ancient Roman wooden sarcophagi, like the handle shown here.

Students often ask what happened to the body that was once buried in this sarcophagus. We don't know. But holes chopped in the bottom of the sarcophagus suggest that it was used at a later time to hold water - maybe as a horse trough or fountain. Over their long history, ancient artworks could be reused for various purposes.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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