A part of a lead sarcophagus with scenes executed in deep relief. In the lower register we see a central crouching winged sphinx, depicted under a kantharos. To either side of the sphinx in the field there is a rosette above grapes. The whole scene is framed on either side by a fluted column with a Corinthian capital. The upper register contains vines and kantharoi. The upper register is set off on both sides by a twisted rope design that pleasingly links the eye with the spiral fluting of the columns.
Sarcophagi of the Columnar Type were often decorated with rows of Corinthian columns, which are spirally fluted. But also other elements in the decoration of this panel, with a sphinx, vines, and kantharoi – all popular Dionysiac motifs which can be traced back to the Greek Hellenistic world – consist of what has been called the stock artistic vocabulary available to Greco-Roman artists in both the East and the West.
The sphinx, like the griffin, had an apotropaic function as a friendly guardian of the tomb. The rosette was a common design on Syrian tombs.
Roman lead sarcophagi were only produced in the region of Phoenicia, although they were also imported by the west. They were made for middle class people who could not afford a marble sarcophagus. Since they were often encased in outer coffins of wood or stone, or were concealed in rock-cut cavities in the floors of a tomb, it seems obvious that unlike the marble ones they were not always meant to be seen and admired.
These sarcophagi were made from sheets of lead that were sand-cast and were usually decorated with repetitive, stamped designs. It is difficult to date them exactly, but they seem to have been in use from the second to the fourth centuries; the earliest specimen known from an excavation which can be dated on other grounds comes from the second half of the second century, but the designs on it may have an earlier origin (see McCann 1978, p. 142).
Dating: Circa 2nd-4th century C.E.