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Work Sarcophagus of Eshmunazar II, king of Sidon

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Sarcophage d'Eshmunazor II, roi de Sidon

© 2006 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Caubet Annie, Prévotat Arnaud

This sarcophagus found at Sidon belonged to Eshmunazar II, king of that city. The iconography is of Egyptian inspiration: the deceased, wrapped in a shroud that leaves the head uncovered, wears a tripartite wig, a false beard, and an usekh collar with falcon-head terminals. On the shroud is a long inscription of 22 lines in alphabetic Phoenician, crucial evidence for the history of the Achaemenid Persian period.

An astonishing sarcophagus

At a site called "The Cavern of Apollo" southeast of the city, was discovered one of the royal necropolises of Achaemenid Persian Sidon, consisting of a number of subterranean funerary chambers cut into the rock and accessible through vertical shafts. They housed marble sarcophagi imported from Greece. Most of these are anthropoid (i.e. made in the shape of a mummy), following a model from pharaonic Egypt, but the face is treated in a Greek style. Sarcophagi of this type have been found in the necropolises of most Phoenician cities on the coast of Lebanon, on Cyprus, and in the Phoenician colonies of the Western Mediterranean. They are works of high quality produced for a social élite, probably by Greek artists. The sarcophagus of Eshmunazar and that of his father Tabnit (discovered at another necropolis) are, however, an exception, being recycled Egyptian work: the stone comes from Egypt and the style of both face and body is Egyptian. Only a long inscription in both cases allows them to be identified as belonging to a king of Sidon.

Life and death of a king

Eshmunazar's inscription is carved on the flat of the lid and on the sarcophagus trough around the head. The epitaph begins with a moving appeal by a king who died before his time and continues with a curse on anyone who should trouble his rest among the Rephaïm, followed by a genealogy of the royal family: "I, Eshmunazar, king of the Sidonians, son of King Tabnit, grandson of Eshmunazar, king of the Sidonians, and of my mother Amo'ashtart, priestess of Our Lady Ashtart, queen, daughter of King Eshmunazar, king of the Sidonians."
The dynasty was responsible for the construction of many religious edifices: "It was we who built the temples of the gods: the temple for Ashtart at Sidon of the Coast and we enthroned Ashtart of the Majestic Heavens and it was we who built the temple for Eshmun, holy prince of the sacred spring YDLL, and enthroned him. And it was we who built the temples for the gods of the Sidonians at Sidon of the Coast, the temple of the Baal-Sidon and the temple of Ashtart-Name-of-Baal."
The favor of the Persian king had increased the territory of Sidon by granting it part of Palestine: "The Lord of Kings gave us Dor and Yapho, the rich wheat-lands that are in the Plain of Sharon, in recognition of the great deeds that I accomplished and we have added to the lands that are forever those of the Sidonians." The text ends with another curse on anyone who "raises my slab" and removes the sarcophagus.

Crucial information

This unusually long text is a mine of priceless information on the history of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. One imagines that Sidon, then the most important city in Phoenicia, must have put its fleet at the service of the "Lord of Kings" (probably Xerxes I) for his undertakings in the Mediterranean, to be rewarded with the territories of Dor and Jaffa and the rich lands of the Plain of Sharon. The inscription also reveals the particularity of the dynasty, whose legitimacy derives from Eshmunazar's mother, a priestess and king's daughter, queen herself and perhaps regent. Finally, the list of religious edifices constructed by the family affords a glimpse of the gods venerated at Sidon and of the monuments of the city and its surrounding area, from "Sidon of the Coast" to "the spring in the mountains."

Technical description

  • Sarcophage d'Eshmunazor II, roi de Sidon

    Premier quart du Ve siècle avant J.-C.

    Nécropole de Magharat Tablun (caverne d'Apollon), Saïda, ancienne Sidon (Liban)

  • Amphibolite noire

    l. : 2,56 m. ; L. : 1,25 m. ; H. : 1,19 m.

  • Découvert par A. Durighello, 1855, don duc de Luynes, 1855 , 1855

    AO 4806

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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

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