Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Sarcophagus Comes Home Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Roberto Bartoloni

[image] Mythological scenes decorate a sarcophagus seized outside of Rome. (Courtesy Guardia di Finanza) [LARGER IMAGE]

Italy's Guardia di Finanza, an elite police corps, has recovered a finely carved sarcophagus at a farm near Rome that was about to be illegally exported to Switzerland. Experts at Rome's Archaeological Superintendency have dated the sarcophagus to around A.D. 150 and consider it to be of exceptional artistic interest, its deeply carved reliefs offering a unique portrayal of the god Saturn in a mortuary context. Police suspect it was looted from a tomb in the vicinity. No arrests have been reported.

Six-and-a-half feet long and 15 inches high, the sarcophagus is decorated on three sides by mythological scenes, Selene, goddess of the moon visiting Endymion, the shepherd who Zeus put into an eternal sleep in exchange for eternal youth; the myth of the hunter Actaeon at the moment he is torn to pieces by his own hounds; and a scene related to Saturn, identifiable by the shackles that bind his legs.

The superintendency says the sarcophagus would be worth at least $1 million on the open market. It will be displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Palestrina near Cave, a municipality outside Rome.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America