The world-famous sarcophagi (coffins) listed in the inventory of various museums in Türkiye are among the country’s must-see artifacts.
Anatolian geography, where great civilizations have lived in history, is home to ruins from different periods. Anatolia is an open-air museum with ancient cities, places of worship, theaters, towers, castles, palaces, bazaars, monuments and monasteries that have retained their splendor for thousands of years .
Among these unique artifacts that Türkiye possesses and sheds light on the history of world culture and art, the spellbinding sarcophagi also occupy an important place.
These sarcophagi, carved from various metals such as stone and marble to hold the dead, date back to ancient history. They feature relief statues of the dead and decorations. Political and religious narratives are also depicted on the sarcophagi decorated with artistic designs. Therefore, these works of art provide important information about the period in which they were made.
12 must-see sarcophagi
Museums in various cities of Türkiye house world-famous examples of sarcophagi that have been preserved in their original form.
- Sidamara Sarcophagus: Sidamara, one of the sarcophagi bearing the immortal details of history and art, has been exhibited in Istanbul for 121 years. The artifact, which was found in the village of Ambar on the Konya-Ereğli Karaman road, can be seen today in Istanbul’s archeology museums. The Sidamara Sorcaphagus dates back to the second-third century AD. It is the heaviest sarcophagus in the world weighing 32 tons.
On the lid of the sarcophagus, in white marble, the person believed to be the owner and his wife are shown half-recumbent. There are two representations of Eros at the feet and at the head of these two figures. There is also a depiction of Eros wrestling with animals such as lions, bears and panthers.
Sidamara’s sarcophagus and his head of Eros, separated for over 100 years, were reunited on June 10, 2022. Through cooperation with the British Victoria and Albert Museum, the head of Eros has been relocated to where it belongs .
- Altıkulaç sarcophagus: The Altıkulaç Sarcophagus or Çan Sarcophagus in the Trojan Museum dates back to the early 4th century BC.
The marble sarcophagus is of great importance because the painted scenes are very well preserved there. The sarcophagus is believed to have been built for an Anatolian dynasty that ruled around 2,500 years ago.
The long front side of the work, considered one of the few examples that best illustrates the understanding of art in Anatolia after the arrival of the Persians, is divided in two by a tree figure in the middle. On the right, a wild boar hunting scene is engraved. The mounted figure hunts a boar with his spear, while hunting dogs are also included in combat. On the left side is a deer hunting scene.
- Alexander’s sarcophagus: The Alexander Sarcophagus was discovered in 1887. Greek and Persian soldiers are depicted at war on the long front of the approximately 2,500 year old sarcophagus. On the far left of the scene, the figure on the horse, which gives its name to the sarcophagus, would be Alexander the Great of Macedon because he wears a lion’s skin. The representation, in which the movement is very successfully engraved, is considered a scene from the battle of Issus, in which Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III.
The Alexander Sarcophagus, whose color palette contains a very good chemical composition and is composed of time-resistant purple, red, yellow, blue, scarlet brown and magenta, is among the important sarcophagi in terms of construction technique and artistic quality.
- Sarcophagus of Heracles: The sarcophagus of Heracles in the Konya Archaeological Museum was discovered in 1958 during a construction. The sarcophagus, which is presented as the best example of the sarcophagi of Heracles made in the technique of high relief in Anatolia, would belong to one of the notables of the ancient city of Pappa. The deceased person is depicted on the narrow side of the sarcophagus, and mythological stories about Heracles are depicted on the other three sides.
- Sarcophagus of Weeping Women: The Weeping Women’s Sarcophagus, one of the sarcophagi in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, was named so because of the iconographic scene it contains.
On the sarcophagus, said to have been produced in the Greek style of the classical period, depictions of mourning women are placed. On the cover of the book, on the other hand, a funeral ceremony specific to Persian culture is described. According to some opinions, the sarcophagus belongs to Strato, King of Sidon (374-358 BC), who is said to have loved pleasure and entertainment.
- Achilles sarcophagus: The sarcophagus of Achilles, on which the scenes of war called Attica are told, is exhibited in the museum of Adana.
In the depictions on the front of the sarcophagus, in reference to the Trojan War in Homer’s “Iliad”, Achilles drags Hector’s corpse across the floor for days, in pain and anger at the murder of his close friend Patroclus and of Hector’s father, Priamus. kneels begging to ask for his son’s body.
- Sarcophagus of Aurelia Botiane and Demetria: The Aurelia Botiane Demetria sarcophagus in the Antalya Museum was removed from the western necropolis of Perge by smugglers in 1997 and seized as it was about to be sold.
In the work, which is an example of the columned sarcophagus from Asia Minor, the face of the woman to whom the sarcophagus belongs is depicted in the form of a portrait. In the middle of the small side face of the sarcophagus, there are two hinged doors symbolizing the other world. On one of the long sides of the sarcophagus there are scenes describing three events between the Trojans and the Achaeans in the Trojan War, which is described in Homer’s “Iliad”.
- Lycian sarcophagus: There is a male and female griffin facing each other on one side of the Lycian sarcophagus lid, which is shaped like an upturned boat. Both griffins stand on one leg, with three raised claws. Although the sarcophagus, dated to the 5th century BC. AD, was excavated from the necropolis of the king of Sidon, it bears this name because of its similarity with Lycian Anatolian funerary monuments. The work is exhibited in Istanbul’s archeology museums.
- Sarcophagus of Eros: The Sarcophagus of Eros in the Side Museum is among the important sarcophagi in which Eros is depicted in all directions. There is a head of Medusa on one side and a round shield relief on the other inside the pediments framed with various moldings and decorated with acroteria (figurative or herbal ornaments) at the corners. The sarcophagus is dated to the last half of the 2nd century AD in terms of processing technique and style.
- Sarcophagus of Dionysus: The Pentelikon marble sarcophagus is dated to the second half of the 3rd century CE with its portrait and stylistic features. There is a depiction of a myth from the “Iliad” on the front of the artwork. On the short sides of the sarcophagus there is a vintage scene, which is often seen in sarcophagi with representations of Dionysus. On stage, the Satyr and the Maenads are picking grapes. The sarcophagus can be visited in the Antalya Museum.
- Polyxena sarcophagus: The Polyxena sarcophagus in the Trojan Museum was discovered during salvage excavations in the Çanakkale Kızöldün tumulus in 1994, following an illegal excavation report. Polyxena belongs to the 6th century BC and is the first example of figurative sarcophagi in Anatolia. On one of its long sides, the sacrifice of Polyxena, the granddaughter of King Priam of Troy and Queen Hecuba, is depicted. For this reason, the work is called the sarcophagus of Polyxena.
- Antakya sarcophagus: Unearthed during a foundation excavation in Antakya in 1993, the Antakya sarcophagus is dated to the 3rd century AD. The artifact, which is on display in a special section of the Hatay Archeology Museum, is shaped like an inverted boat. The work is believed to have been made for an aristocratic family due to the descriptions it contains. On the lid part of the sarcophagus there are figures of a man, a woman, two children, a horse and a bird with their faces not shown. While various creatures decorate the rim of the lid, reliefs of Pan and Satyr have been placed on the corners. It has been determined that the marble for the sarcophagus was found in the marble mines of Afyonkarahisar.