Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online

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Sarcophagi, Christian
(3,116 words)

Sarcophagi were coffins, usually made of stone (the most expensive of marble), or of lead, terracotta, or wood. The term sarcophagus (from Gk sarx + phagein, “flesh-eater”) reflects an ancient belief that certain types of stone had corpse-consuming properties (Plin. Nat. 2.211; 36.131; Juv. Sat. 10.172). However, the primary purpose of a sarcophagus was not to decompose the body but to separate it, house it, and, when sarcophagi were decorated with reliefs, to repl…

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Ellison, Mark D., “Sarcophagi, Christian”, in: Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online, General Editor David G. Hunter, Paul J.J. van Geest, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte. Consulted online on 23 February 2024 <>
First published online: 2019

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