Marble sarcophagus showing the Twelve Labours of Hercules


British Museum

British Museum

The front of this sarcophagus shows Hercules performing five of his twelve tasks. From left to right he is seen leading Cerberus from the gates of underworld, taking Hippolyta's girdle, plucking the golden apples of the garden of the Hesperides, taming the ferocious horses of Diomedes and finally overcoming the Nemaean lion. The side panels show Hercules struggling with the Kerynian stag and the Lernian hydra. On the front of the lid Hercules performs the other labours: (from left to right) capturing the Erymanthian boar, cleansing the Augean stables, shooting the Stymphalian birds, capturing the Cretan bull and defeating Geryon. Framing these scenes are (left) Hercules as a child strangling the serpents sent by Hera to kill him, and (right) Hercules as an old man receiving immortality. In the early Roman world cremation was the normal form of burial for all classes. The ashes would be placed in containers of glass pottery or metal, then sealed inside lead or stone chests which often took the form of altars or shrines. From the second century AD, however, burial became very popular, and demand grew for stone containers or sarcophagi for the bodies of the dead. This demand was supplied by industrial scale quarrying at sites such as Mt. Pentelicus near Athens, Carrara in northern Italy and the island of Proconnesus, the source of this particular sarcophagus, off Turkey. Sarcophagi were either exported as finished items or were completed in workshops in Rome and other major centres.

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  • Title: Marble sarcophagus showing the Twelve Labours of Hercules
  • Date Created: 150/180
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 70.30cm (Chest); Height: 26.20cm (Lid); Length: 225.00mm; Width: 80.00cm; Height: 57.00cm (Chest, internal); Height: 7.00cm (Lid, internal); Length: 207.00cm (Internal); Width: 62.00cm (Internal)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: classical deity; classical mythology; mythical figure/creature
  • Registration number: 1873,0820.760
  • Production place: Made in Rome
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Genzano di Roma
  • Period/culture: Roman Imperial
  • Material: marble
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Castellani, Alessandro


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