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Columnar Sarcophagi from Aphrodisias: Elite Emulation in the Greek East

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Columnar sarcophagus from Aphrodisias (S-7) with five figures (from left to right): athletic youth, female portrait, "composite" goddess, male portrait, athletic youth (courtesy New York University, Excavations at Aphrodisias).
Columnar sarcophagus from Aphrodisias (S-7) with five figures (from left to right): athletic youth, female portrait, "composite" goddess, male portrait, athletic youth (courtesy New York University, Excavations at Aphrodisias).

There has recently been interest in understanding the meaning of Roman metropolitan sarcophagi, particularly those decorated with mythological subject matter. Most of the previous studies have focused on sarcophagi produced in Rome and Athens. This article aims to address a specific lacuna in the scholarship by focusing on the meaning of a group of sarcophagi from Aphrodisias in Caria. These sarcophagi are decorated in relief with a columnar facade, an arcaded entablature, and human figures standing in the intercolumniations. Drawing evidence from funerary inscriptions and archaeological context, the first part of the article establishes the chronology of these sarcophagi and the social classes that commissioned them. The second part explains and contextualizes the architectural form and the “types” of human figures represented on the sarcophagus chests. The final part takes into consideration the iconography and offers explanations for the unique relief decoration by situating the sarcophagi within the social context of Asia Minor in general and of the city of Aphrodisias in particular.

Related Articles: 
iconography    sculpture    mortuary   

Columnar Sarcophagi from Aphrodisias: Elite Emulation in the Greek East
By Esen Öğüş
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 118 Number 1 (January 2014)
DOI: 10.3764/aja.118.1.0113
© 2014 Archaeological Institute of America