Strigilated sarcophagus

Inv. Scu 9

Sarcophagus with lid; the short sides are only roughly carved and do not bear any decoration. The remarkable dimensions of the casket and the two figures standing to either edge of the front suggest that the sarcophagus was destined to the burial of a married couple.

The chest is carved with S-shaped flutes and is divided into symmetrical halves by a small oval relief decorated with the figure of the goddess Victory standing on a Corinthian capital and writing on a shield. The image of Victory may refer to the honours received by the bridegroom in his life.

A woman and a man stand in frontal position on either edge of the front; curtains hang in the background. The man wears a toga with wide central band (toga contabulata) and holds several scrolls in his left hand (others are on the floor); the woman, clad in tunic and wide cloak, also holds scrolls and has a box at her feet. These attributes qualify the deceased as cultivated and high-ranked personages; that the couple had belonged to the Pagan ruling class is also confirmed by the decoration of the lid.

The funerary inscription had originally been painted within the rectangular field at the centre of the lid. Two hunting scenes are carved to either side of the field; on the left is shown a wild boar hunt, on the right a deer hunt performed with the help of a net hooked to a tree. To either corner of the lid, immediately above the deceased, are theatrical masks; the mask above the bridegroom has been identified with Hercules, the mask above the bride with Alcestis, the wife of Admetus, who, according to the myth, was saved from the Hades by Hercules himself.

The carving of the flutes and upper mouldings is definitely more refined than that of the figurative elements, such as the faces of the deceased which are only roughly worked since they were never completely finished.

Stylistically, the sarcophagus can be dated to the age of the emperor Constantine (312-337 AD); the iconographic themes, however, are also found on earlier works dating from the second half of the 3rd century AD.

The sarcophagus was discovered in 1744 in the Catacombe di San Sebastiano.