For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Early Christian sarcophagi.

Early Christian sarcophagi

.mw-parser-output .hidden-begin{box-sizing:border-box;width:100%;padding:5px;border:none;font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .hidden-title{font-weight:bold;line-height:1.6;text-align:left}.mw-parser-output .hidden-content{text-align:left}You can help expand this article with text translated from the corresponding article in Italian. (December 2008) Click [show] for important translation instructions. View a machine-translated version of the Italian article. Machine translation, like DeepL or Google Translate, is a useful starting point for translations, but translators must revise errors as necessary and confirm that the translation is accurate, rather than simply copy-pasting machine-translated text into the English Wikipedia. Consider adding a topic to this template: there are already 3,033 articles in the main category, and specifying|topic= will aid in categorization. Do not translate text that appears unreliable or low-quality. If possible, verify the text with references provided in the foreign-language article. You must provide copyright attribution in the edit summary accompanying your translation by providing an interlanguage link to the source of your translation. A model attribution edit summary is Content in this edit is translated from the existing Italian Wikipedia article at [[:it:Sarcofago paleocristiano]]; see its history for attribution. You should also add the template ((Translated|it|Sarcofago paleocristiano)) to the talk page. For more guidance, see Wikipedia:Translation.
Sarcophagi of Helena and Constantina, daughter of Constantine I, from her mausoleum at Santa Costanza (now in Vatican Museums).
Detail of the central panel of the Sarcophagus of Stilicho, Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan

Early Christian sarcophagi are those Ancient Roman sarcophagi carrying inscriptions or carving relating them to early Christianity. They were produced from the late 3rd century through to the 5th century. They represent the earliest form of large Christian sculpture, and are important for the study of Early Christian art.

The production of Roman sarcophagi with carved decoration spread due to the gradual abandonment of the rite of cremation in favour of inhumation over the course of the 2nd century throughout the empire. However, burial in such sarcophagi was expensive and thus reserved for wealthy families. The end of the Christian persecutions desired by Gallienus in 260 began a period of peace for the Christians that lasted until the end of that century and allowed Christianity to spread in the army, in senior administrative posts and even the emperor's circles. In the second half of the 3rd century, especially due to increased demand from this group of wealthy Christians, the use of sarcophagi spread widely, with plastic treatments following trends in contemporary sculpture.

Production and typology

The sarcophagi seem to have been produced by workshops who also created pieces with pagan or Jewish iconography. The techniques are the same, but Christian sarcophagi developed a rather different style of layout, with framed scenes, later arranged on two tiers. The images of Christ move in an iconic direction, very unlike the depiction of gods in pagan equivalents, where deities are normally shown, if at all, in narrative scenes.


Lateran Museum, Rome, Italy. Rome - Early Christian sarcophagus, Lateran Museum, story of Isaac; Moses on Mount Sinai; healing blind; Peter denies Lord; healing sick; turning water into wine. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

A wide variety of subjects are shown on sarcophagi, with the most elaborate containing small cycles of narrative scenes from the gospels and simpler ones symbols such as the Chi Rho. Other motifs depicted include the Hetoimasia, a representation of the empty throne with a book as preparation for the Last Judgment, the Traditio Legis or "giving of the law", with the scroll of the New Covenant given to St. Peter with St. Paul on the other side of Christ, and Christ in Majesty ("Maiestas domini")- representations of the majesty of the lord ranging from visions of prophets to Christ on a throne between the apostles with his feet on a footstool

Notable examples

Engraving of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.


  • De Vecchi, Pierluigi; Elda Cerchiari (1999). I tempi dell'arte (in Italian). Milan: Bompiani.
{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Early Christian sarcophagi
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?