SARCOPHAGUS (Gr. aapKoj&yos, literally "flesh-eating," from <r<xp, flesh, <j>ayiv, to eat), the name given to a coffin in stone, which on account of its caustic qualities, according to Pliny (H.N. xxxvi. 27), consumed the body in forty days; also by the Greeks to a sepulchral chest, in stone or other material, which was more or less enriched with ornament and sculpture. One of the finest examples known is the sarcophagus of Seti, the second king of the XIX. Egyptian dynasty (1326-1300 B.C.), which is carved out of a block of Aragonite or hard carbonate of lime, now in the Soane Museum; of later date are the green porphyry sarcophagus and the terra-cotta sarcophagus from Clazomenae; both of these date from the early 6th century B.C., and are in the British Museum. The finest Greek examples are those found at Sidon in 1887 by Hamdy Bey, which are now in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople (see GREEK ART). Of Etruscan sarcophagi there are numerous examples in terracotta; occasionally they are miniature representations of temples, and sometimes in the form of a couch on which rest figures of the deceased; one of these in the British Museum dates from 500 B.C. The earliest Roman sarcophagus is that of Scipio in the Vatican (3rd century B.C.), carved in peperino stone. Of later Roman sarcophagi, there is an immense series enriched with figures in high relief, of which the chief are the Niobid example in the Lateran, the Lycomedes sarcophagus in the Capitol, the Penthesilea sarcophagus in the Vatican, and the immense sarcophagus representing a battle of the Romans and the barbarians in the Museo delle Terme. In later Roman work there was a great decadence in the sculpture, so that in the following centuries recourse was had to the red Egyptian porphyry, of which the sarcophagi of Constantia (A.D. 355) and of the empress Helena (A.D. 589), both in the Vatican, are fine examples. Of later date, during the Byzantine period, there is a large series either in museums or in the cloisters of the Italian churches. They are generally decorated with a series of niches with figures in them, divided by small attached shafts with semicircular or sloping covers carved with religious emblems, one of the best examples being the sarcophagus of Sta Barbara, dating from the beginning of the 6th century, at Ravenna, where there are many others. The term sarcophagus is sometimes applied also to an altar tomb.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)