sar·​coph·​a·​gus | \sär-ˈkä-fə-gəs \
plural sarcophagi\ sär-​ˈkä-​fə-​ˌgī , -​ˌjī, -​ˌgē \ also sarcophaguses

Definition of sarcophagus 

: a stone coffin broadly : coffin

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Synonyms for sarcophagus


bier, box, casket, coffin, pall

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Did You Know?

Body-eating coffins might sound like the stuff of horror films, but "flesh-eating stone" does play a role in the etymology of sarcophagus. That creepy-sounding phrase is a literal translation of "sarkophagos," the Greek word that underlies our English term. It's not clear whether the Romans truly believed that a certain type of limestone from the region around Troy would dissolve flesh (and thus was desirable for making coffins). That assertion came from Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, but he also reported such phenomena as dog-headed people and elephants who wrote Greek. But there’s no doubt that the ancient Greek word for the limestone, "sarkophagos," was formed by combining sark-, meaning "flesh," with a derivative of "phagein," a verb meaning "to eat."

Examples of sarcophagus in a Sentence

the crypt under the abbey church contains the sarcophagus of the monastery's founding abbot

Recent Examples on the Web

Archaeologists found a giant granite sarcophagus while carrying out a routine land inspection in Alexandria, Egypt, according to a Facebook post from the ministry of antiquities. Ella Cerón, Teen Vogue, "Undisturbed Sarcophagus Found in Alexandria, Egypt," 12 July 2018 Archaeologists are being cautious with the sarcophagus. Owen Jarus, Scientific American, "Discovery of Massive Granite Sarcophagus Presents Mystery of Who Is Inside," 12 July 2018 Egypt Today reported that the sarcophagus weighs roughly 30 tons, and will require numerous steps in order to move it. Ella Cerón, Teen Vogue, "Undisturbed Sarcophagus Found in Alexandria, Egypt," 12 July 2018 The sarcophagus was found buried 16.4 feet below the surface. James Rogers, Fox News, "Mysterious giant sarcophagus discovered in Egypt," 10 July 2018 In addition to the sarcophagus, the archeologists found an alabaster bust of a man that likely depicts the owner of the tomb. Abigail Abrams, Time, "A Mysterious Sarcophagus That May Not Have Been Opened in 2,000 Years Was Found in Egypt," 14 July 2018 One of the mummies Sutro acquired in the 1890s was Nes-Per-N-Nub, a high priest at the Temple of Karnak whose wrapped remains were laid to rest about 4,000 years ago in an intricately painted and incised triple-nesting wood sarcophagus. Jesse Hamlin, San Francisco Chronicle, "SF State’s new Global Museum to house Sutro’s Egyptian Collection," 11 Apr. 2018 In a Facebook post, Dr. Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that the 6-foot high sarcophagus, which is 8.7-feet long and 5.4-feet wide, is the largest ever found in Alexandria. James Rogers, Fox News, "Mysterious giant sarcophagus discovered in Egypt," 10 July 2018 The researchers suspect that additional ghost signals may have come from Tut's massive quartzite sarcophagus, which takes up much of the central burial chamber. National Geographic, "It’s Official: Tut’s Tomb Has No Hidden Chambers After All," 6 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sarcophagus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of sarcophagus

1619, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sarcophagus

borrowed from Latin, after lapis sarcophagus "kind of stone with caustic properties used for coffins," partial translation of Greek líthos sarkóphagos, literally, "flesh-eating stone"; sarkóphagos from sarko- sarco- + -phagos -phagous

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Last Updated

22 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for sarcophagus

The first known use of sarcophagus was in 1619

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English Language Learners Definition of sarcophagus

: a stone coffin from ancient times

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obstinately defiant of authority

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