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Early Christian sarcophagi: Map

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Early Christian sarcophagi are those produced by the first Christians through to the 5th century, particularly known via 3rd century examples.

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

Iconography

Notable examples

  • Sarcophagi of Helena and Constantina


Detail of the central panel of the Sarcophagus of Stilicho, Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan
Engraving of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
  • Sarcophagus of the Passion


Bibliography

  • Pierluigi De Vecchi and Elda Cerchiari, I tempi dell'arte, volume 1, Bompiani, Milan 1999.



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