Limestone sarcophagus: the Amathus sarcophagus

Period: Archaic

Date: 2nd quarter of the 5th century B.C.

Culture: Cypriot

Medium: Hard limestone

Dimensions: Overall: 62 x 93 1/8 x 38 1/2in. (157.5 x 236.6 x 97.8cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.2453


The Amathus sarcophagus is arguably the single most important object in the Cesnola Collection and unique among ancient Cypriot sculptures in its monumentality and in the preservation of its polychromy. The primary scenes on the long sides show a procession of chariots escorted by attendants on horseback and followed by foot soldiers. The main personage is probably the driver, who is standing under a parasol in the first chariot. His horses, as the others, are richly caparisoned; his chariot resembles the others also, except that the wheel has fewer spokes. The decoration of the short ends consists of a row of Astarte figures, nude except for their double necklaces and ear caps, and a row of Bes figures. The choice of these two deities, one Near Eastern, the other Egyptian, suggests the importance of procreation to the deceased. The figural panels are framed by a variety of vegetal ornaments, while the gabled lid once featured a pair of sphinxes and a palmette at each end.
The sarcophagus probably belonged to one of the kings of Amathus. The procession scenes provide a glimpse into his world. The iconography as a whole, moreover, documents the thorough integration of Greek, Cypriot, and Oriental features in works of high quality at the middle fifth century B.C.