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

Thursday, September 28, 2023 The event started -68 days ago

7:30 PM 8:30 PM

Wilson Hall

Room 168

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 lenoid 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?!

Dr. Mont Allen, Southern Illinois University, 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 — archaeological and taphonomic — this talk examines the plausibility of such an argument, with special attention paid to what we can reconstruct about how Romans would have liquefied within their sarcophagi.

Talk sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America - North Alabama Society.

Free and open to the public.


Art Art History and Design, College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences
Public, Students, Faculty and Staff, Alumni


Dr. Lillian Joyce 256.824.6114 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Wilson Hall

301 Sparkman DriveHuntsville, AL 35899

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