Length: 192.000 cm
Purchased with the assistance of the
P&E MLA 1957,10-11,1
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Marble sarcophagus carved with scenes from the story of Jonah and the whale
Late Roman, about AD
Probably from Italy
This sarcophagus was found partially buried in
the garden of a large country house between Ilminster and Bath. The
presence of a water channel and drain holes indicate that at some
point it was re-used as a fountain. It was probably purchased in
the eighteenth or nineteenth century by an Englishman on the
Jonah, reclining beneath a gourd tree, appears as the largest figure on the front side of the sarcophagus. The individuality of his features suggests that they were intended as a portrait, perhaps of the person buried in the sarcophagus. On the left, three sailors hoist the sails of a boat in advance of a storm. A ketos (mythical sea-creature), representing the whale, swims towards them through a rough sea. On the bottom-right the ketos spews Jonah from his mouth onto dry land. A lamb in the upper left-hand corner provides a pastoral, and perhaps also Christian, element. Fluted pilasters separate the scene on the front from the ends which are carved with another ketos and a peacock, both beneath gourd trees.
The sarcophagus, probably commissioned by a Christian client, was carved in the last decades of the third century AD. The marble originated from a quarry in the east, either in Greece or Asia Minor, but the chest itself was probably made in Italy.
S. Walker, A catalogue of the Roman sarco (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)