Length: 190.000 cm
Width: 40.000 cm
Room 70: Roman Empire
Lead coffin with lid
Roman, made in Lebanon 2nd-3rd centuries AD
Said to be from Sidon, Lebanon
Images of Psyche
The coffin and its lid are made of moulded sheets of lead soldered together. The sides of the coffin are decorated with bands of bead and reel motifs and vine tendrils. Below the decorated bands are columns and between these are hanging garlands and images of Psyche. The lid has moulded criss-cross decoration over most of the body, with a figure of Psyche over the area of the head. In Greek and Roman mythology Psyche was the personification of the soul and is represented on the lid and on the sides of this coffin with the wings of a butterfly, reflecting the way in which the soul was supposed to fly from the body at the end of life.
The coffin would probably originally have been placed inside a sarcophagus, usually of marble, which in turn would have been put in a tomb or vault. Inhumation became the most common form of burial from the second century AD, largely replacing cremation. This change may have been linked to social and religious changes; lead coffins may have been used for their supposed preservative effects on the body. Lead was not mined on any scale in the Roman Near East, so the lead for the coffin was probably imported from Spain, Sardinia or less probably from Britain, where there was extensive mining in the Mendips and Derbyshire.
S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)
S. Walker, Memorials to the Roman dead (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)