Encyclopedia of History
Home > Encyclopedia of History

sarcophagus



Any stone receptacle for a dead body. The name comes from the Greek meaning "flesh-eater" and originated in the property assigned to a species of stone, found at Assos in Troas and used in early times, of consuming the whole body, with the exception of the teeth, within the space of 40 days. The oldest known sarcophagi are those of Egypt, some of which are contemporary with the pyramids. The earliest of these are of a square or oblong form, and either plain or ornamented with lotus leaves; the later are of the form of swathed mummies, and bear inscriptions. The pyramids were sepulchral tombs built to contain the sarcophagi of the kings of Egypt; the Phoenicians and Persian kinds were also buried in sarcophagi. The Roman sarcophagi of the earlier republican period were plain. Sarcophagi were occasionally used in the later republic, although burning had become the more general mode of disposing of the dead.