The ‘Sarcophagus of Rufina’ from Tyre: Material and Visual Approaches to Funerary Ritual in Roman-period Phoenicia

Activiteit: Academic presentationAcademic


This paper applies material and visual approaches to an investigation of the ritual function of sarcophagi from Roman-period Phoenicia. The focus is on the 3rd century A.D. ‘Sarcophagus of Rufina’, from the Roman–Byzantine necropolis of Al-Bass, Tyre. The aim of the paper is to explore how the sarcophagus
played a role in the negotiation of death and loss amongst the living community, specifically providing forms of comfort. As the sarcophagus was used for several burials during antiquity, questions are raised regarding the re-use and re-shaping of its functionality.
This paper carries out a holistic and contextual examination of the functionality of the sarcophagus through its material and visual components: material, shape, size, decoration, and text (inscriptions). How did these components interact with each other, and thus how did the sarcophagus interact with the living community within the wider spatial and socio-cultural context? Moreover, the primary function of the sarcophagus as a receptacle for the body is key, recognizing the important relationship between the body, the surfaces of the sarcophagus, and the viewer.
Theoretical works that frame this paper are Gell’s Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford 1998) and Zanker and Ewald, Mit Mythen leben. Die Bilderwelt der römischen Sarkophage (Oxford 2004). Such approaches have not been applied to sarcophagi of Phoenicia. Accordingly, the sarcophagus through its various components could interact with mourners in a multifaceted way, providing different forms of comfort that could help the living navigate loss and separation whilst also creating bridges with the deceased. The sarcophagus also highlights interpretative challenges concerning the identification of patrons and phases of use at Tyre.
More broadly, this focused examination engages in questions concerning the mobility of funerary practices and ideas in the Roman East, the use of a sarcophagus that draws upon imperial-wide trends and reflects local
EvenementstitelAIA & SCS Joint Annual Meeting
: Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies
LocatieChicago, United States, IllinoisToon op kaart
Mate van erkenningInternational