- Museum number
Two pieces from the front of a lenos (tub-shaped sarcophagus): battle between Greeks and Amazons. In the centre the slain Penthesilea slumps across Achilles' thigh. Flanking the central group are two pairs of mounted Greeks and Amazons engaged in combat. The Amazons turn their heads to watch Penthesilea. Unmounted Greek warriors emerge from behind Achilles to stab them in the back. Three fallen Amazons lie on the ground below each pair of figures in the main field. The outermost Amazons have fallen with their horses. The scene is flanked at the ends by two Victories, who come to the aid of the mounted Greeks. Made of marble from Proconnesos.
- Production date
- 290-310 (circa)
Height: 238.80 centimetres
Height: 91 centimetres
Thickness: 11.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Walker, Susan, 1990, Catalogue of Roman Sarcophagi in the British Museum:
Michaelis 635, no. 58; ASR, II, no. 69a pl. 28; Mrs S. A. (Eugenie) Strong, JHS 28 (1908), 29 no. 44, pl. xx; Gerke, 9, 22-3; Redlich, 107-10, pi. 9; Koch, ASR, XII, 6, 23 n. 42; Koch-Sichtermann, 140 with n. 25 (bibl.); A. Kossatz-Deissmann, LIMC, I, 167 no. 766; 600 no. 209.
The unusual composition of this relief has attracted much comment.(1) While Achilles and Penthesilea appear on other metropolitan sarcophagi of third-century date, the symmetrical composition of the flanking mounted figures is not a metropolitan feature. The secondary figures are also strongly symmetrical, and are carefully arranged in logical relation to the three major groups.
Some scholars have argued that Asiatic craftsmen were responsible for the introduction of the motif of the symmetrically disposed mounted figures to the metropolitan repertoire.(2) Such figures are found in the colonnaded sarcophagi of Phrygia, where they customarily appear in hunting scenes.(3) This motif has a long history in western Asia Minor; its origins have been traced to the period of Persian domination in the later fifth and early fourth centuries BC.(4) The Victories at the corners of the front and short sides of the London relief are also typical of Asiatic rather than metropolitan workshops. The possible Asiatic origin of the marble
might offer further support for the eastern origin of the craftsmen, though a substantial proportion of the sarcophagi carved in Rome of Proconnesian or, less commonly, of Phrygian marble, were decorated with scenes unknown to Asiatic ateliers.
With reference to a similar scene on the north-east pier of the Arch of Galerius at Salonica, Laubscher argued that this motif was not derived from the sculptural traditions of Asia Minor, but from contemporary Roman triumphal paintings.(5) Again, with regard to the arch, Meyer noted close parallels with earlier Roman representations, in painting and mosaic, of Alexander.(6) A similar relationship with triumphal paintings has been argued for the series of battle sarcophagi from Rome.(7)
The theme of Greeks and Amazons occurs on a mosaic pavement excavated at Daphne and contemporary with the London relief.(8) Arranged as on a sarcophagus, now in Istanbul, with the horses rearing away from each other, the motif is thought to have been inspired by classical Greek paintings, the Greek hoplite transformed into Roman triumphator.(9)
The formal symmetry of the composition of the London relief, so alien to the traditions of the metropolitan ateliers, lends strength to the view that the subject was copied from a cartoon for a painting or mosaic. Painted, the sarcophagus would no doubt have resembled work in these media. The Neapolitan provenance of the sarcophagus should also be taken into account. Though the relief does not appear related to others attributed to Campanian workshops,(10) it is possible (given the diffuse character of Campanian work) that this is the work of a sculptor based in Campania and working independently of the contemporary metropolitan workshops. He may have been of Asiatic origin or had knowledge of the traditions of sculptors producing Phrygian sarcophagi. Alternatively, the sarcophagus may have been sent to Campania from Rome.(11)
The style of the carving has been compared to monuments of the tetrarchic period.(12) The London relief has been dated to the last decade of the third century AD or to the first decade of the fourth.(13)
1. Koch-Sichtermann, loc. cit. (above), n. 25.
2. G. Rodenwaldt, Jdl 55 (1940), 53; Wiegartz, 54 ff.
3. Wiegartz, loc. cit. (n. 2), Schema A and Taf. 34 A.
4. Wiegartz, 55.
5. H. P. Laubscher, Der Reliefschmuck des Galeriusbogens in Thessaloniki (Berlin 1975), 135-6.
6. H. Meyer, Jdl 95 (1980), 414 6.
7. R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Hellenistic-Byzantine Miniatures of the Iliad (Ilias Ambrosiana) (Olten, Switzerland 1955), 10.
8. R. Stillwell (ed.), Antioch-on-the-Orontes II: The Excavations (Princeton 1938), pi. 32.
9. D. Levi, Antioch Mosaic Pavements (Princeton 1947), 308-11, pi. lxix c, cxxiii a. For the sarcophagus in Istanbul, see Wiegartz, Taf. 34 A.
10. G. Koch, ASK, XII, 6. Die Meleagersarkophage (Berlin 1975), 60: compare no. 43 below.
11. Koch believes this to be the work of an immigrant workshop (pers. comm.). See also his remarks in AA 1979, 238 d. 11.
12. B. Andreae-H. Jung, AA 1979, 432-6.
13. Redlich, loc. cit. (above)
- Not on display
- Joined from two fragments. The feet of both mounted Amazons are missing.
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number