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Work Anthropoid sarcophagus with lid

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Sarcophage anthropoïde complet

© 1998 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoît Nicolas

One of a group of anthropoid sarcophagi typical of Phoenician funerary sculpture of the Persian period, this was the first of the group to be displayed in the Louvre. Originating from the area around Tripoli, it illustrates a synthesis achieved, under the aegis of Phoenician local princes, between the model provided by the long-familiar Egyptian sarcophagus and the forms and techniques of the Greek art of the 5th century BC.

A well-preserved sarcophagus

This sarcophagus of white marble consists of a trough with a lid of rounded profile, the first having six tenons and the second four. The sculpted lid has a solid, squared-off base that stands for the feet and a male head carved in greater detail in relief. Of Greek inspiration, the sarcophagus is an example of the so-called Severe Style (c. 480-450 BC). The nose is prominent; the almond-shaped eyes have heavy lids, the outer corners of which are slightly drooping; the fleshy lips are well separated in a discreet smile. The hair, in three rows of rounded curls, was covered in dark blue paint, now lost. From behind the large, prominent ears, two pairs of flattened, wavy tresses fall down across the lid. The left ear is pierced with a hole.

An important acquisition

Discovered in 1853 by A. Péretié, head of chancery at the French consulate in Beirut, and acquired by the Louvre that same year, this anthropoid sarcophagus was the first of its kind to be displayed at the museum. It then formed part of a group of 15 works that made up the Phoenician section, described for the first time by Adrien Prévost de Longpérier in 1854. Many sarcophagi of the same type would be found later, from Phoenicia proper on the Levantine coast to southern Spain, reflecting the very wide distribution of Phoenician culture across the Mediterranean. The origin of this sarcophagus - impossible to determine precisely on account of the contradictory evidence - must have been somewhere in the environs of Tripoli, within the area of influence of the kingdom of Arados-Arwad, the major center of north Phoenician sarcophagus production.

Phoenician anthropoid sarcophagi

Characteristic of Phoenician funerary art from the 5th century BC, these sarcophagi are the fruit of different influences. The beginnings were Egyptian: the cartonnage mask placed over the mummy's face in the late 3rd millennium BC was gradually extended to cover the whole body, thus creating the sarcophagus, which in the 26th Dynasty (663-525 BC) began to be carved from stone. The appearance of the first Phoenician sarcophagi in the early 5th century BC is certainly related to the conquest of Egypt and the looting of the necropolises of Memphis and Saqqara by the Persian army in 525; among the troops were Phoenicians (from Tyre, Sidon, and Arados), Ionian Greeks, and Cypriots. The model of the sarcophagus was thus introduced into Phoenicia, probably adapted or influenced by Greek artists in the service of local rulers, as is suggested by this example, both in the marble used - clearly imported from one of the Greek islands - and in its execution. The wavy tresses evoke the Greek art of the 520s, although this may well be an archaism deliberately introduced by the sculptor, for the treatment of the face and the rounded form of the sarcophagus trough and lid would suggest the 470s. It is thus a characteristic work of the Persian period, when the kingdoms of Phoenicia acted as a melting pot for influences from Greece and Egypt.


Buhl Marie-Louise, "L'Origine des sarcophages anthropoïdes en pierre", in Atti del Primo Congresso Internazionale di Studi Fenici e Punici, vol. I, Rome, 1979 (1983), pp. 199-202.
Buhl Marie-Louise, "Les Sarcophages anthropoïdes phéniciens en dehors de la Phénicie", in Acta Archaeologica, vol. 58, 1987, Munksgaard, Kobenhavn, 1988, pp. 213-221, fig. 10.
Caubet Annie, Yon Marguerite, "Arouad et Amrit, VIIIe-Ier siècle av. J.-C. Documents", in Transeuphratène, n 6, Paris, Gabalda, 1993, pp. 60-62, n 19, pl. V.
Caubet Annie (sous la dir. de), L'Art phénicien : la sculpture de tradition phénicienne, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, p. 54, n 39.
Elayi Josette, "Les Sarcophages phéniciens d'époque perse", in Iranica Antica, n 23, 1988, pp. 289-290.
Frede Simone, Die Phönizischen Anthropoiden Sarkophage, Teil 1, Fundgruppen und Bestattungskontexte, Mayence, Von Zabern, 2000, cat. II, 20, p. 119, pl. 92, 93a.
Lembke Katja, Phönizische anthropoide Sarkophage, Mayence, Von Zabern, 2001.

Technical description

  • Sarcophage anthropoïde complet

    Vers 470 avant J.-C.

    Aux environs de Tripoli (Liban)

  • Marbre blanc

    H. : 0,67 m. ; l. : 2,16 m. ; L. : 0,78 m.

  • Découvert par M. Péretié, acquisition 1853 , 1853

    AO 4801

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: the Phoenician kingdoms, 8th–2nd century BC
    Room 311

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