The Magnificent Velletri Sarcophagus: A Roman Jewel


| LAST UPDATE 04/13/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Velletri Sarcophagus Roman funerary art
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Contributor via Getty Images

Step back in time and marvel at the breathtaking beauty of the Velletri Sarcophagus. This stunning work of art is a true masterpiece of Roman funerary art, blending Asian and Greek styles in a breathtaking way. Every inch of this masterpiece is covered in intricately detailed reliefs depicting the legend of Hercules and the king and queen of the Underworld.

Discovered near the town of Velletri in 1955, the Velletri Sarcophagus stands more than five feet tall and is over eight feet long, making it a truly imposing piece of art that commands the attention of all who see it. The attention to detail in its design and execution is truly extraordinary, making it one of the most impressive pieces of Roman funerary art that has ever been found.

Hercules Roman Velletri Sarcophagus
Sepia Times / Contributor via Getty Images
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

This remarkable sarcophagus was carved from a single block of marble quarried on the Greek island of Paros - one of the most highly prized materials for Roman sculptors. The scenes on the sarcophagus are organized by architectural elements, a technique favored by artists from Asia Minor. The reliefs depict a series of mythological episodes, and are divided by Atlas-like figures at the base and caryatids above. The dominant theme of the Velletri Sarcophagus is the mythological labors of the legendary hero, Hercules. On three of the four sides, the feats of Hercules are shown in vivid detail, including his descent into and return from the underworld. At the top of the sarcophagus, the gabled design offers a touch of classical temple architecture, while the reliefs serve as a testament to the hope of the deceased that his life, like Hercules', will continue beyond the grave.

This magnificent work of art was created during a time when the Romans were transitioning from cremation to burial as their preferred method of handling funerals. The Velletri Sarcophagus is a remarkable example of the kind of art that the ancient Romans produced during this era, and it remains awe-inspiring to this day. So come, step into the past, and witness the incredible beauty of the Velletri Sarcophagus - a true masterpiece of Roman funerary art.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below