/sahr kof"euh geuhs/, n., pl. sarcophagi /-juy'/, sarcophaguses.1. a stone coffin, esp. one bearing sculpture, inscriptions, etc., often displayed as a monument.2. Gk. Antiq. a kind of stone thought to consume the flesh of corpses, used for coffins.[1595-1605; < L < Gk sarkophágos, n. use of the adj.; see SARCOPHAGOUS]
* * *▪ stone coffinstone coffin. The original term is of doubtful meaning; Pliny explains that the word denotes a coffin of limestone from the Troad (the region around Troy) which had the property of dissolving the body quickly (Greek sarx, “flesh”; phagein, “to eat”). This explanation is questionable; religious and folkloristic ideas may have been involved in calling a coffin a body eater. The word came into general use as the name for a large coffin in imperial Rome and is now used as an archaeological term.The earliest stone coffins in use among the Egyptians (Egyptian religion) of the 3rd dynasty (c. 2650–2575 BC) were designed to represent palaces of mud-brick architecture, with an ornamental arrangement of false doors and windows. Beginning in the 11th dynasty (c. 2081 BC), boxlike sarcophagi of wood or limestone were in use in Egypt and on the Lebanese coast at Byblos. In the 17th dynasty (c. 1630–1540 BC), anthropoid coffins (shaped to resemble the human form with a carved portrait head) of pasted papyrus sheets and, later, of wood, pottery, or stone were used. In the case of royalty, some were made of solid gold (Tutankhamen) or silver (Psussenes I). In the 18th–20th dynasties (c. 1539–1075 BC), the upper classes enclosed inner coffins of wood or metal in stone outer sarcophagi, a practice that continued into the Ptolemaic period.In the Aegean (Aegean civilizations) area, although not on the Greek mainland, rectangular terra-cotta coffins (larnakes) with elaborate painted designs came into general use in Middle Minoan times (c. 2000–c. 1570 BC). Sometimes these coffins resembled houses or bathtubs with large handles. The Phoenicians (Phoenicia) developed a white marble anthropoid sarcophagus of the Egyptian type in the 5th century BC, and in Hellenistic times they specialized in making leaden coffins and elaborately carved marble sarcophagi. In Italy, from c. 600 BC onward, the Etruscans used both stone and terra-cotta sarcophagi, and after 300 BC sculptured sarcophagi were used by the Romans. These often had carved figures of the deceased reclining on the couch-shaped lids.
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