Object: Cinerary Urn

Unknown location
Materials: marble, metal

This object is a Roman cinerary urn made of marble. A cinerary urn is a type of container used to contain the cremated remains of an individual. In various times throughout Classical history cremation was the preferred method of burial. Cinerary urns could be made of a variety of materials, from terracotta to stone. Early cinerary urns from Greece were often in the form or large pottery jars. In Italy these urns tended to be rectangular in shape, and early examples were made to resemble houses. It is thought that these funerary containers were meant to be the “houses” for the dead. During Roman times these urns would be displayed in wall niches in a tomb or columbarium. Because of how the urns were displayed, the backs of the urns (like the one at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History) are undecorated.

This urn shows the figures of several Greco-Roman deities on the front. Starting from the left the first figure is probably Calliope, and is identified by her lyre. The second figure is easily recognizable as Mercury with his winged hat and caduceus. The third figure is Diana, shown with her signature bow and arrow. The final figure is Hercules, shown leaning on his club.


The right side has some damage and was repaired in antiquity with metal, which can be seen from the top.

rightRight side

It is believed that the image on the left side of the cinerary urn shows a sacrifice of a sheep, or lamb. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

leftLeft side

A few other examples of cinerary urns can be found at:
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Australian National University Museum
The Britsh Museum

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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