Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Rome, 359 
Treasury of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican


The lid is broken away except for a few centimeters at the base molding. The figures in the ten niches are well preserved. Missing is the head of the servant on the upper right is missing. 
Below, the originally naked Daniel has been re-placed by a modern palliatus. The inscription on the upper edge reads: IUN•BASSUS•V•C•QUI VIXIT ANNIS•XLII MEN•II•IN IPSA PRAEFECTURA URBI NEOFITUS IIT AD DEUM•VII•KAL•SEPT•EUSEBIO ET YPATIO COSS. ("Junius Bassus, vir clarissimus, forty-two years and two months old, performing the duties of city prefect went newly baptized to God on 25 August during the consulate of Eusebius and Hypatius [= in the year AD 359]"). On the tabula of the lid a fragmentary inscription honors, originally in eight distiches, the official functions of Bassus and records the dignified funeral.
The sarcophagus is laid out in two registers of five niches, each separated by columns, six on each register; the two columns on the outside are spirally fluted; the two central ones are decorated with grapevines and in them climbing Erotes. The upper niches are covered by richly adorned architraves; below, shells and gables alternate. The almost fully plastic groups in the niches illustrate scenes of the Old and New Testaments. Upper zone: in the middle the youthful Christ, flanked by two apostles, a scroll in his left hand, is enthroned above the bearded personification of Caelus with the cloth of heaven. To the right follows the presentation of Christ by two soldiers before the pensive Pilate, who is seated on the sella curulis; at the left are the arrest of Peter and Abraham sacrificing Isaac, who kneels in tunica exomis in front of an altar; behind it is an accompanying servant; on the upper left is the hand of God (broken off); on the lower left, the ram looking up. Lower zone: in the middle, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem on a horse-like donkey, with a small figure spreading out a robe and a man cutting branches in the fork of the tree (Matt. 21 : 1-11); at the right is Daniel, as noted, between the lions and the scene of Paul led to his martyrdom; a clump of reeds in the rear indicates its place by the Tiber; at the left is the Fall of Man, the progenitors flanking the tree with the serpent, and Job sitting on a pile of stones, with his wife and a friend, who are standing. 

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016