Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Corpse Wine: Dionysiac Imagery and the Fermentation of the Dead in Roman Sarcophagi

April 20, 2024 @ 10:30 am - 12:00 pm EDT

Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum
801 S Patterson Ave
Oxford, OH 45056 United States

AIA Society: Dayton

A lecture by Mont Allen, Southern Illinois University

Why are roughly one-ninth of all surviving Roman sarcophagi shaped not like rectangular boxes with squared-off ends, but instead like lenoi: those large tubs or vats with rounded ends in which Greeks and Romans pressed grapes and fermented the juice to make wine, an association underscored by the Dionysiac imagery that often appears on the sides of these sarcophagi? What purpose did it serve within the funerary context? Or to put it most bluntly: Why did so many Romans want to imagine their dearly departed as resting within a wine vat?!

I suggest that it explicitly invited viewers — bereaved family members — to reconceive the corpse’s decomposition and moldering within the vat-like casket in Dionysiac terms: as a process of fermentation like that which transformed grapes into wine. It offered mourners a comforting fantasy, to reimagine the deceased’s putrefaction as instead a transubstantiation into a delicious elixir, something elevated, intoxicating, and divine. Exploring a wide variety of evidence — art historical, archaeological, and taphonomic — this talk examines the plausibility of such an argument, with special attention paid to the visual material and to what we can reconstruct about how Romans would have liquefied within their sarcophagi.

When placing events on your calendar using these buttons, please check that time zone displays correctly.


April 20, 2024
10:30 am - 12:00 pm EDT
Event Category:
Event Tags:


Jack Green


In-person or Virtual Event


Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum
801 S Patterson Ave
Oxford, OH 45056 United States
+ Google Map
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.