Sarcophagus, AD 3rd century
22 × 77 × 21 9/16 in. (55.9 × 195.6 × 54.8 cm.)
Bequest from the Preston Pope Satterwhite Collection 1949.30.266
A sarcophagus (a word literally meaning “flesh eater” in Greek) is a stone coffin. Although slaves and former slaves were often cremated and their remains contained in small chests from the 2nd century AD onward, many Romans were buried with their bodies intact. Since sarcophagi were typically placed against the walls inside mausoleums, only the fronts and the sides featured carved relief decorations. Here, two winged cherubs hold a circular medallion bearing the name of the deceased, Gaius Julius Justus, a high-ranking military official who died in Britain. The embracing winged figures in the corners may be Cupid and his love Psyche. This story of a human granted immortality by the gods may have reflected the deceased’s hope for a happy afterlife.