Another English Planter, Another Roman Sarcophagus?

I’m beginning to think the Roman-sarcophagus-in-the-garden is becoming the Classical equivalent of the Declaration-of-Independence-from-the-thrift store … From the Daily Mail comes what appears to be another case of gardeners not realizing they were putting their plants in something rather valuable:

A garden trough used as a flower planter for 30 years has been identified as rare 2,000-year-old marble coffin worth over £100,000.

The unsuspecting couple from Northumberland inherited the 6ft 9in long sarcophagus from the previous owners of their house, who left it behind in 1982.

The retired pair only realised its worth when they learned of a similar ornament on sale at an auction house.

Experts were invited to inspect it and discovered the one-tonne trough was a rare ornate Roman sarcophagus – a coffin carved from stone that usually sits above ground – dating back to the First and Second Century AD.

Auctioneers said the couple were ‘shocked’ when they learned how valuable it is.

Made from Carrara marble, the sarcophagus would have been commissioned for the funeral of a wealthy woman and placed in a private mausoleum in Rome.

The sarcophagus is worth more than the couple, who asked not to be identified, paid for the home it was found in.

The previous owners did not even mention the sarcophagus on the house deeds and clearly did not know its value.

It is almost identical to another Roman sarcophagus that is in the Galleria Lapidaria in the Vatican.

The carved marble side features cherubs that represent charm, beauty and creativity in Greek mythology

The front is carved with a central panel of the Three Graces, which represent charm, beauty, and creativity in Greek mythology.

It is not known how it found its way to the rural house near Hadrian’s Wall, but a copper plaque on the back of the sarcophagus states ‘Bought from Rome in 1902.’

Guy Schwinge, of Dukes auction house in Dorchester, Dorset, flew to Newcastle as soon as he saw the pictures of the sarcophagus the couple had emailed.

He found the rare ornament filled with plants and soil and left on the grass.

He said: ‘It is quite exceptional for a something of this importance to turn up unrecognised in a garden.

‘They told me that they acquired it when they bought the house and just thought it was an ornamental plant trough.

‘The people who sold the house didn’t make a big fuss about it and it wasn’t mentioned in the deeds so they couldn’t have know what it was.

‘The property is very close to Hadrian’s Wall and the sarcophagus dates back to Emperor Hadrian but that is purely a coincidence.

‘It has always been in the same spot and the vendors have found it ideal for putting bedding plants in over the last 30 years.

‘I think they were a little shocked when I confirmed what it was and how much it might sell for.

‘After I left they took great care in emptying the soil out of it and a crane was brought in to place it on a lorry and drive down to us.’

Mr Schwinge said although it is impossible to know for sure how the ornament made its way to England, a possible theory is that it was one of seven sarcophagi bought by US railroad magnate Henry Walters from the Palazzo Accoranboni gallery in Rome for $1million.

Mr Schwinge said: ‘It is interesting to speculate whether the sarcophagus we are selling could relate to Henry Walters’ purchase.’

Laurence Keen OBE, an archaeologist and art expert, who examined the sarcophagus, said: ‘It was obviously intended for a high status individual.

‘The combination of the strigilated panels and the figural decoration indicates that it was intended for a wealthy individual.

‘The simply hewn back probably suggests that it came from a private mausoleum, where the tomb was placed against a wall.’

The sarcophagus will be sold at auction in Dorchester on February 14.

… plenty of photos at the Daily Mail site … Mr Schwinge seems to have a nose for this sort of thing; back in September, another case: Roman Sarcophagus in a Dorset Garden. That one was only worth half of what this one is worth, supposedly, even though it seemed to be in better condition.

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