Height: 45.700 cm (with lid)
Length: 85.000 cm
Marble sarcophagus with a Bacchic scene
Roman, 3rd century AD
The size of this sarcophagus indicates that it was probably made for a child. It features two main scenes connected with Bacchus, the rustic god of wine, revelry and fertility, which are framed by two pairs of lion heads holding heavy rings. On the front of the casket at the centre Bacchus is supported by a young follower, while a maenad runs ahead with a panther. On the back is a scene of three boys pressing grapes in a vat similar to the sarcophagus itself. At the ends are shown groups of centaurs and maenads playing horns, lyres and flutes, and the goat-legged god Pan. The lid, with its reclining figure of Silenus, is an eighteenth-century addition, probably made when the sarcophagus was in its previous home at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, seat of the Dukes of Carlisle.
In the early Roman world cremation was the normal form of burial for all classes. The ashes would be placed in containers of glass pottery or metal, then sealed inside lead or stone chests which often took the form of altars or shrines. However, from the second century AD, inhumation became very popular, and demand grew for stone containers (sarcophagi) for the bodies of the dead. This particular sarcophagus was made of marble from the island of Proconnesus, off the coast of Turkey, which was then shaped in Rome.