Comparison of the Sarcophagi Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2774 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

However, there is a strong and pronounced sense of celebration and triumph, as this truly magnificent burial item is decorated with battle scenes among soldiers and Amazons (warrior women of the ancient world). "The standing figures are soldiers, wearing helmets, short tunics, and plates of body armor. The soldiers are armed with swords and protect themselves with round shields. The Amazons ride horses; their fallen sisters lay dead on the ground" ( There is a pervasive sense of movement and progress. The sarcophagus definitively depicts a scene which is indeed mid-battle and which points to an outcome which is indeed imminent: this outcome is one which will no doubt be triumphant and this is the send off that the vanquished military leader will be given off and into the afterlife: a send off which is pulsating with triumph. "The four corners of the sarcophagus predict the battle's outcome. They are decorated with trophies composed of the Amazons' weapons and kneeling Amazon prisoners, hands bound behind their backs. The lid is designed in the shape of the roof of a Roman temple. Fine rows of vertical 'tiles' culminate in lions' heads. The ends of the lid are decorated with round shields" ( There are specific details which abound this particular work of art and product of procession which helps to indicate that the person contained within the sarcophagus was indeed very important to the Roman army. The soldiers depicted stand in a greater form and position among the horses and their Amazon riders: they wear knotted belts which indicate that they were of high rank ( Furthermore, the fact that the sarcophagus depicts trophies and prisoners further demonstrates a strong sense of military victories ( It's important to remember that Roman society was pagan, and that these memorials demonstrated a sense of hope of immortality, with these highly decorated, and highly splendid sarcophagi representing that (Walker).

Research Paper on Comparison of the Sarcophagi Assignment

Even strangers passing by were expected to admire the detailed sarcophagi and tombstones and to read aloud the texts which represented for all time a good reputation that had been acquired in life (Walker). The memorial text can help in providing more testimony about the departed and in offering a specific record of the individuals and institutions which had shaped the Roman experience while demonstrating more about the Romany funerary ritual (Walker). In this case, the sarcophagus strongly represents a bold military triumph which thus turns the entire rite of funeral into an extension of a military ceremony. Thus, the vanquished military leader is thus sent off with a tremendous amount of fanfare and excitement: the sarcophagus is another aspect of this.

In order to better understand these sarcophagi, one needs to understand that death and the ritual of burial was not always a procedure which was treated very well or so lavishly. A marked change occurred in Roman culture in the 3rd and fourth centuries in the way in which death was treated, portrayed and regarded through ritual: "The change, whatever caused it, whether national misfortunes or a heightened sensitiveness to the tragic and pathetic elements in human destiny, would appear to have been less concerned with the life beyond death than with the process of death itself as the moment of the violent and irrevocable separation of the soul from the body…of judgment passed on the conduct in this life… Death's inevitability and violence, the grief of parting, and the thought of judgment to come are, of course, recurring themes in Roman literature and tomb art" (Tuynbee, 14). In this sense, these two sarcophagi represent a radical departure in the way that death was treated and regarded.

There was a marked diminishment of fear and a marked decrease in the somber colors with which death was regarded. Instead, the afterlife represented a certain amount of possibility. The afterlife was a place of celebration and pleasure: a place where one might mingle with fantastical creatures and sample more pleasurable delights. The afterlife was treated as a place where vanquished military leaders were hailed for all their glory and where their triumphs would still be acknowledged and revered. Thus, this was indeed a dramatic shift in perspective and one which demonstrated an intense desire to view the afterlife as something to be excited about. This also marks a new comfort with the idea of man's mortality and immortality, and the connections which bind them together.

However, with these sarcophagi, it's important to remember that they not only represent a shift in change on the viewpoint on death and the afterlife, but they also represent a vehicle for memory. Sarcophagi are items used at burial for remembrance. "These images, the correlatives of dreams of a hoped-for future, reclaim the past and keep it alive. In them, by means of myth, the virtues and values by which the deceased wish to be recalled are played out on a heroic scale; by means of portraiture, the dead themselves emerge from the shades to serve as the catalyst for the act of reminiscence. The powers of nostalgia depend on this complicity between past and present, between myth and reality. These powers derive from the most general aspects of religious practice and are rooted in the belief that the 'dead and the living can affect one another mutually'" (Koortbijian, 7).

Thus, it's important to treat these mythological images represented on the sarcophagi as not merely allegories but as a form of realism shrouded in a belief about the connection between life and death which is at the heart of the human condition (Koortbijian, 7). These sarcophagi are able to form images and within those images, memories, providing individuals with mental images of the past (Koortbijian, 7). This means that the ancients were all too aware of the presence of things that one recalls, did not hesitate to acknowledge the power that memory served by virtue of something like a picture and through the visual characteristic of memory (Koortbijian, 7). Vision and imagery are a primary characteristic of memory and one which the sarcophagi appeal to, in a form of prompting and dramatizing these memories of the past.

Thus, the two sarcophagi discussed in this paper were made for different reasons and depict different elements of the same issue: the treatment of death in Roman culture. The sarcophagus of the Indian Triumph of Dionysus demonstrates a projection of the fanfare and excitement of the afterlife. The sarcophagus which depicts a battle between soldiers and Amazons demonstrates the establishment of identity among the departed, and a belief that the triumphs of life will be accessible to some extent in the afterlife. Both of these sarcophagi demonstrate a minimizing of the fear and the unknown of death, and sheer reduction of the terror that generally accompanies the unknown. Instead, death is treated as a vehicle for immortality. The sarcophagi discussed here are also used as tools for remembrance and to establish an identity with the past.

Works Cited

Awan, H.T.. "Roman Sarcophagi." The Metropolitan Museum, n.d.

Web. 1 Apr 2014.

Koortbojian, Michael Myth, Meaning, and Memory on Roman Sarcophagi. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1995.

McCann, Anna Marguerite Roman Sarcophagi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New

York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978., . "Sarcophagus Depicting a Battle between Soldiers and Amazons."

N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr 2014.

Morford, M. Classical Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Staff, A. The Triumph of Dionysus on an Ancient Sarcophagus. 2012, February. Retrieved from

Toynbee, J.M.C. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

University Press, 1996.

Walker, Susan Memorials to the Roman Dead. London: British Museum… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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