- Museum number
Pentelic marble sarcophagus decorated with scenes from the life of Achilles. The ancient surface of the interior is roughly worked with a point, and the long sides in diagonal channels. On the front, Achilles accepts a helmet prior to recognition of him by the daughters of Lycomedes. On the left side, Achilles is instructed in boxing by the centaur Chiron. On the right side, Hephaistos completes work on Achilles' shield. Thetis offers greaves and a scabbard to Achilles, who stands waiting in a cuirass. On the rear, Hector's corpse is dragged before the walls of Troy.
The upper mouldings are decorated with a lesbian cymatium, ovolo and bead-and-reel; the lower with Lesbian cymatium and guilloche. The mouldings on the back of the chest are uncut. Caryatids mark the corners - they stand on plinths decorated with (front) two lions, confronted; (left side) panther and stag, confronted; (right side) hound and panther, facing the rear; (back) hound and panther (?), confronted.
- Production date
Height: 80 centimetres (Interior)
Height: 130.50 centimetres
Length: 227 centimetres (Interior)
Length: 266 centimetres
Width: 84 centimetres (Interior)
Width: 150.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Walker, Susan, 1990, Catalogue of Roman Sarcophagi in the British Museum:
Spratt records the mutilation of the face of Hector on the rear of the sarcophagus after the chest was first moved from its findspot.(1)
T. Spratt, Travels and Researches in Crete I (London 1865), 274-88; Robert, ASR, II, 31-3 no. 23 (bibl.); Smith, III, 297-300 no. 2296 (bibl.); Kallipolitis, 19, no. 54, pl. 2; Giuliano, Commercio, 54, no. 316; H. S. Robinson, A]A 73 (1969), 195 with n. 18c and pl. 54; Giuliano-Palma 21, no. 1; M. Coleman-S. Walker, Archaeometry 21 (1979), 108-9;
A. Kossatz-Deissmann, LIMC, I, 51 no. 78d, pl. 66; 62, no. 138, pl. 71; 143, no. 623, pl. 120; Koch-Sichtermann, 367, n. 20; 368, n. 33; 382-5, 387, n. 60; I. F. Sanders, Roman Crete (Warminster 1982), 47-8, 46 pl. 8; S. Walker, World Archaeology 16.2 (1984), 207-8, 209 fig. 3, pl. la; P. Linant de Bellefonds, Les Sarcophages Attiques de la Ne'cropole de Tyr (Paris 1985), 163 with n. 4, pl. 63, 1.
This sarcophagus was found, with Walker no. 57, in a built tomb between the amphitheatre and theatre of ancient Ierapetra. The chests were apparently moved here from another location, for Spratt noted that robbery could not have taken place in the cramped tomb in which they were found. Spratt noted that the lids of both sarcophagi had been removed and broken.(2) No. 57 was subsequently reunited; a fragmentary lid, entered in Walker 1990 as 44B, most likely belongs with this chest, although the presence of caryatids suggest it may originally have been intended to fit a lid with kline.(3)
Giuliano and Palma attribute this sarcophagus to a sculptor designated by them the 'Maestro d'Hippolito'. They link this chest to another sarcophagus possibly from Salonica and now in Istanbul, decorated with the story of Hippolytos and Phaidra.(4) Koch and Sichtermann assign the London sarcophagus to a sub-category of Attic sarcophagi decorated with scenes from the life of Achilles, of which it is the sole member. They criticise the date of AD 165 proposed by Giuliano and Palma, preferring to link this sarcophagus with other late second-century Attic sarcophagi carved on all four sides.(5)
More recently the undoubted link between the depictions of the Achilles and Hippolytus cycles has been noted with reference to Attic sarcophagi exported to Tyre.(6) The attribution to the hand of an individual master craftsman is a more difficult argument to sustain. However, Giuliano and Palma's early date deserves further consideration. Where they are preserved, the decorated mouldings are very crisply cut. The ovolo and bead-and-reel are carved in deep relief, the beads retaining an ovoid shape characteristic of mid-Antonine architectural ornament in Athens.(7) There seems no reason to date on grounds of style the ornament of the sarcophagus later than the flatly rendered and elongated decoration of the Achilles sarcophagus in Leningrad, used by Koch and Sichtermann to characterise their first group.(8) Moreover, the lack of comparable figured scenes is another indication of an early date: the London sarcophagus may have been individually commissioned before the establishment of a conventional repertoire. But, as Koch and Sichtermann point out, estimates of the dates of Attic sarcophagi have varied considerably.(9) Margins should therefore be more generous than Giuliano and Palma allow: AD 150-70.
1. Spratt, op. cit. (above), 275.
2. Idem 282. In a letter to the Admiralty of August 5, 1859, Spratt reports 'The lid of this sarcophagus is broken - only half being seen'. The lid is not illustrated in the accompanying photographs.
3. A letter from Spratt (3/9/1861) to Charles Newton, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities enquires '. . . What other cases reached the Museum with the sarcophagus. Was there besides the small lid and the fragment of the large one (which, by the way, was most probably its original) a case containing fragments of the large sarcophagus?' (GRA archives).
4. Giuliano-Palma, loc. cit. (above); the Hippolytus sarcophagus is no. 2.
5. Op. cit. (above), 383 (category); 367 n. 20 (criticism of the date); 385 (revised date).
6. Linant de Bellefonds, loc. cit. (above).
7. Compare the ovolos on the pilaster capitals from the Antonine nymphaeum in the Athenian Agora: S. Walker, AA 1979, 118, fig. 15-16.
8. Koch-Sichtermann, 382-3; for the Leningrad sarcophagus, see I. I. Saverkina, Römische Sarkophage in der Ermitage (Berlin 1979), 17-19 no. 2, pi. 6-9.
9. Koch-Sichtermann, 367.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019-2020 21 Nov-8 Mar, London, BM, SEG, Troy
- The surface is severely weathered on both long sides and at the left end. The chest is partially reconstructed from fragments. The lower part of the plinth is restored. The interior was robbed through a hole hacked in the left end, behind the centaur's head, and now filled. The interior was reinforced, probably for shipment, with projecting blocks. Spratt records the mutilation of the face of Hector on the rear of the sarcophagus after the chest was first moved from its findspot.
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number