Sarcophagus of Portonaccio

Sarcophagus of Portonaccio (Last quarter of the 2nd c. CE). From Via Tiburtina,

The fore part of the grand sarcophagus represents a battle scene staged  on several planes and focused on the haughty advance of a Roman knight depicted in the capacity of universal victor.

The dramatic animation of the combat is emphasized by means of the deep chiaroscuro obtained thanks to a skillful use of intaglios.

The sanguinary scenes are framed by two couples of captive barbarians, whose woebegone expressions convey the torment incumbent on those who rebel against the rule of Rome. The bas-reliefs on the sides of the sarcophagus show events subsequent to the clash: on one side, barbarian prisoners crossing a river led by Roman soldiers along a boat bridge, on the other side the chieftains submitting to the Roman officials.

The frieze on the lid, between two corner mascarons, celebrates the deceased and his spouse, portrayed in the centre in the act of the dextrarum iunctio (clasping of right hands). The faces of the main personages were left unfinished, awaiting the features of the deceased to be sculpted. The decoration of the sarcophagus, inspired by many scenes of the Antonine Column, is dateable to about 180 CE.

The military insignia on the upper rim of the case - the eagle of the Legio IIII Flavia (Fourth Flavian Legion) and the boar of the Legio I Italica (First Italic Legion) - allow the identification of the deceased as Aulus Iulius Pompilius, official of Marcus Aurelius,  in command of two cavalry squadrons drafted to these two legions during the Marcomannic Wars.