Battle sarcophagus

c. 190 CE
more object details

General Description

The complex composition of this battle scene—with warriors, horses, captives, and trophies of armor intertwined to suggest the violence and bloodshed of war—is typical of Roman relief carvings during the Antonine period (138–192 CE). The sarcophagus was probably made to celebrate the victories of a Roman general in the series of wars that Rome fought with Germanic tribesmen along the Danube frontier, in what are now Hungary and Romania; however, the prototype for the scene might have been a monument created by the Greek King Attalos I of Pergamon in Asia Minor during the 3rd century BCE, which was erected to signify the Greek defeat of the barbarian Celtic invaders. The nude warriors with torques around their necks follow descriptions of Celtic warriors by classical authors. The powerfully modeled and lively Pergamene art style was much admired during the Roman Empire. Here it seems to have been adapted to a Roman taste for historical realism. The man buried in such a battle sarcophagus, several examples of which have survived, probably wished to identify his life and career with well-known Greek scenes of military triumph.

Excerpt from

Anne Bromberg, Label copy [1999.107], 2001.

Web Resources

  • Capitoline Museum
    See related Pergamene sculptures of Dying Gauls, which belong to the same Hellenistic period.

  • Khan Academy
    View parts of Trajan's column, showing similar conquests in Dacia and the same theme of Romans bringing peace and prosperity to conquered barbarians.

  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video explaining the lively Pergamene art style that influenced the style of the DMA Battle Sarcophagus.

  • Khan Academy
    Compare to the famous Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus in the Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Altemps, Rome.