Tag Archives: Ancient Rome

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus

Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 - 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.
Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 – 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.

The inscription on the lid of this sarcophagus identifies its former occupant, Maconiana Severiana, as being from a senatorial family. “To the soul of the deceased. For Maconiana Severiana, the sweetest daughter, Marcus Sempronius Faustinianus, vir clarissimus [holding a senatorial rank], and Praecilia Severiana, clarissima femina from a senatorial family, her parents had this made.” Given the small size of the sarcophagus, Maconiana must have been a child or adolescent.

The front of the sarcophagus shows a Dionysiac revel, culminating in the discovery of the sleeping Ariadne, shown lying down on the right. Abandoned by the Greek hero Theseus, Ariadne awakened to a new life with Dionysos, the god of wine. The goat-legged Pan lifts the veil from her prone figure while satyrs, maenads, and a panther surround the drunken Dionysos.

The back of the sarcophagus shows another Dionysiac scene of winemaking carved in a simpler, flatter style. Panels with related figures flanking the central inscription on the lid. For the Romans, Dionysos was associated with the hope of a better afterlife; thus many sarcophagi show the god and his followers.

Sculpted stone sarcophagi, which came into use in the 200s A.D., soon became symbols of wealth and status. Since Romans favored certain themes for sarcophagi, they were often bought ready-made and then customized by the addition of a portrait of the deceased. The blank face of Ariadne should have been carved as a portrait of Maconiana Severiana. Why it was left blank in this instance is not clear.

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Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Left side
 Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side
Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side

J. Paul Getty Museum