sarcophagus Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

The clash between men and Amazons, a mythical tribe of female warriors from the exoticized “East,” was a common motif in Greek monumental and Roman funerary art. This version has no dominating hero or obvious outcome and can be read on many levels. The conflict tests the boundaries between male and female, civilization and barbarism, human “reality” and the not-quite-human world of myth, and perhaps it offers a reminder of the violence—and strangeness—of death. The sarcophagus also plays into a broader story of elite taste in the second century CE, when wealthy Romans often chose to ornament their sarcophagi with Greek mythological scenes. A sarcophagus like this one, executed in Roman sculptural style but with a Greek subject, would have provided both a final resting place for the body or bodies and a lasting tribute to the wealth and cultural sophistication of an individual or family.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Sarcophagus Sections with Men Fighting Amazons
Other Titles
Former Title: Front and Side of a Sarcophagus depicting an Amazonomachy
Work Type
c. 230 CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Asia Minor
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3700, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Roman Art
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Pentelic marble
front: 63.5 cm h x 194 cm w (25 x 76 3/8 in.)
side: 63.5 cm h x 59 cm cm w (25 x 23 1/4 in.)
Barracco Collection.
1899.A-C: Edward W. Forbes, Cambridge, MA, (by 1899), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1899.
1932.49.A-B: Charles W. Gould, New York, Ny, (by 1930), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1932.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Front and side of an Attic Sarcophagus

There are five sections, with pieces missing at the breaks. They run from the left end to the left front edge (or about so, with a section cut away), to the turn of the corner at the right front. The slabs look as if they has been cut and broken apart for use, face down, as paving stones. The visible surfaces are fresh, save where there is chipping.

The scene shows a battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. Sarcophagi with scenes of combat between Amazons and Greeks were carved in Italy, Asia Minor, and Attica. Those created around the quarries near Athens were the most satisfying in terms of classical Greek sculptures because, as especially here, they reflect the ideal scenes of combat going back to the Parthenon metopes, passing the era of the Bassae frieze with its Lapiths and Centaurs, and culminating in the friezes of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Amazons were remembered for campaigns in Phrygia, Lycia, and an attack on Theseus at Athens, but the presence of Achilles and the dying Amazon Queen Penthesilea in Roman Amazonomachies suggest the focus was on the battle at Troy, when, late in the war, the Amazons came to aid their cousins Priam and the Trojans.

A sarcophagus such as the Forbes-Gould-Harvard example, which once had a pedimented, temple-roof-shaped lid, would have appealed to a client in western Asia Minor because of its strongly Pheidian to Skopasian flavor. The combats could be thought of as symbolic of life's trials or the ravages of death (many other mythological sarcophagi combined similar themes). Otherwise, the Amazonomachy may have appealed to those persons, in Ionia or Italy, who cherished scenes from the Trojan War and, here, myths in which the Trojan ancestors of the Romans or their exotic allies were prominent.

While looking back to Athens in the fourth century B.C. in passages and specific details, this composition (the long side) with its crowded upper background, its foreshortened casualties in the bottom register, and its elongated combatants in the central area from end to end also looks ahead to Late Antique battle sarcophagi (the Ludovisi Sarcophagus in the Museo Nazionale Romano) when such unclassical elements will mark the beginning of the end of ancient art.

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

George H. Chase, Greek and Roman Sculpture in American Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1924), p. 155, fig. 186

Hubert Phililppart, Collections d'antiquites classiques aux Etats-Unis, Revue de l'Université de Bruxelles, Revue de l'Universite de Bruxelles, Supplement (Brussels, Belgium, 1928), Vol.33 (4), p.3

Gerhart Rodenwaldt, "Der Klinensarkophag von S. Lorenzo", Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts (1930), 45, Heft 1/2

Alice Whiting Ellis, "Reliefs from a Sarcophagus Decorated with an Amazonomachy in the Fogg Museum", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1936), vol. 47, pp. 216-218

Alice Whiting Ellis, "Reliefs from a sarcophagus decorated with an Amazonomachy in the Fogg Museum" (1936), Radcliffe College

Roman Redlich, Die Amazonensarkophage des 2 und 3 Jahrhunderts nach Chr., Archäologisches Institut des Deutschen Reiches (Berlin, Germany, 1942)

Bernard Andreae, "Ein Amazonengemälde", Römische Mitteilungen, 63, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, F. H. Kerle (Heidelberg, 1956), pp. 32-45

Vasileios G. Kallipolitis, Chronologike katataxis ton meta mythologikon parastaseon attikon sarcophagon tes rhomaikes epoches (Athens, 1958)

Antonio Giuliano, Il commercio degli sarcofagi attici, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 1962)

Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions, 1969-1970, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971)

George M. A. Hanfmann and David Gordon Mitten, "The Art of Classical Antiquity", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 362-369, pp. 366, 368, fig. 9

Antonio Giuliano and Beatrice Palma, La maniera ateniese di età romana: I maestri dei sarcofagi attici, Studi Miscellanei 24, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 1978)

Guntram Koch and Helmut Sichtermann, Römische Sarkophage, C. H. Beck (Munich, 1982)

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 109, no. 121, ill.

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 132-133, no. 121

James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 120-121, ill.

Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997

Carola Kintrup, "Chronologie der attischen Amazonomachie-Sarkophage", Akten des Symposiums "125 Jahre Sarkophag-Corpus," Marburg, 4.-7. Oktober 1995, ed. Guntram Koch, Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz, 1998), vol. 1, pp. 206-215, pp. 208-209, pl. 93.5

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008), p. 26, ill.

Carola Kintrup, Die attischen Sarkophage, vol. 2: Amazonomachie - Schlacht - Epinausimachie, Deutschen Archäologischen Institute/Gebr. Mann Verlag (Berlin, 2016), pp. 57-60, 238-239, no. 82

Exhibition History

Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008

Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008

Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

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