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Lead Sarcophagi in the Adana Museum
Two lead sarcophagi that are displayed in the garden of Adana Museum are the subject matter of this article, for both their material as well as for other noteworthy details. This paper aims to present in detail and to evaluate these two sarcophagi: the first, with a lid and an inscription on its long side is termed the ‘Inscribed Sarcophagus’, the second, without a lid and with depictions of menorah on the inner faces of its long sides is termed the ‘Sarcophagus with Menorahs’. The inventory record states that the Inscribed Sarcophagus was purchased while that with Menorahs was brought to the Museum by the Gendarme Command of Yumurtalık Township.

The Inscribed Sarcophagus’ base and long sides were cast together and the long sides were later folded. The Sarcophagus with Menorahs, on the other hand, was constructed by joining the base and long sides which were each cast separately; the long sides of the base plaque were folded over the long side plaques in order to later solder them together. The short sides of both sarcophagi were cast separately and their mounting methods are also different: the short sides of the Sarcophagus with Menorahs sit on the base plaque and the short edges of the long sides fold over them, whereas the base and long side plaques of the Inscribed Sarcophagus fold over the short side plaques and are soldered. Both sarcophagi are very plain on the outside: the one with a lid carries an inscription while the other has depictions of two pairs of menorah on the inner faces of its long sides.

Sarcophagi with decoration on their inner sides are not very common but both the inscription and the menorah depictions are found on the inner faces of these sarcophagi from Adana and it is suggested that these decorations were for the deceased who were buried in them, as these sarcophagi were placed inside a tomb or in some other closed room invisible to the people passing by.

In the Roman Imperial period, Beirut, Sidon and Tyros were the centres of lead sarcophagi production in the province of Syria, while Caesarea, Jerusalem and Ashqelon were the centres in the province of Palaestina. The same centres continued the production of lead sarcophagi in the early Christian period. The workshops of Sidon, or at least one of them, produced lead sarcophagi for pagan, Jewish and Christian clients as is understood from the religious symbols on these sarcophagi. Alongside sarcophagi with geometric motifs such as rhombuses, wreaths and aediculae and floral motifs, pagans ordered lead sarcophagi with mythological themes, Jews ordered sarcophagi with menorah depictions while the Christians ordered those with a cross or monogram of Christ, revealing the deceased persons’ religious faith.

The hypothesis that the two lead sarcophagi in the garden of Adana Museum were actually produced in Sidon and then brought to the Adana region does not seem plausible when the general decorative features of the Sidon sarcophagi are considered.

The sarcophagus without a lid carrying depictions of menorah shows that it was ordered by a Jew. The Inscribed Sarcophagus features the name of the owner ‘Prokla’ which sounds Greek but the possibility of a Jewish owner cannot be completely disregarded. Although few in number the Jewish sarcophagi carrying religious depictions dating from the Roman Imperial period or Late Antiquity are generally dated to the 2nd-4th centuries. The sarcophagi in the Adana Museum were produced in the 4th century or perhaps even in the early 5th century and have a special importance, this is because these sarcophagi are rare surviving artefacts from the Jewish population of Cilicia.

*Doç. Dr. Ayşe Aydın
Mersin Üniversitesi, Fen - Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü 33342 Mezitli-Mersin.
E-mail: ayayse@mersin.edu.tr

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