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The sarcophagus of the Triumph of Bacchus

A magnificent legend is the theme for the decoration of this large marble sarcophagus. It relates the triumph of Bacchus, god of vineyards and wine, returning from a victorious expedition to India.
Accompanied by Ariadne, Bacchus stands in a chariot drawn by a panther. At the center, the god Pan leads the chariot. In front, curly-haired prisoners are riding on an elephant surrounded by other exotic animals (camels or giraffes, lion). On the right side of the scene, a drunken Hercules held up by a satyr tries to approach a nymph.

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What?
White marble (high relief)
L. 2.22 m;W. 0.95 m; H. 1.17 m

When?
First half of the third century

Where?
Europe / France / Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes / Rhône department / Lyon / Lyon 5th arrondissement / Saint Irénée

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History of the work

The Bacchus sarcophagus was discovered in 1845 near the Saint-Irénée church on Fourvière Hill. It was made in a Roman workshop early in the third century.

The world of the dead

During Roman times, funerary rites evolved. The rite of incineration gave way to burial, which was practiced starting from the third century. The ashes or body were placed in a tomb that reflected the wealth of the deceased. Since no tombs were allowed in the city center, funeral sites were aligned along the roads on the outskirts of the city.
Why does a Roman funerary monument depict a scene like this ?
According to Paul Veyne, a specialist in Antiquity, "beautiful images might help lessen the fear of what might happen after death." The triumphal procession perhaps symbolizes the victory over death, and this joyful scene might evoke "the hope for a pleasant afterlife."

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