sar·​coph·​a·​gus | \ sär-ˈkä-fə-gəs How to pronounce sarcophagus (audio) \
plural sarcophagi\ sär-​ˈkä-​fə-​ˌgī How to pronounce sarcophagi (audio) , -​ˌjī , -​ˌgē \ also sarcophaguses

Definition of sarcophagus

: a stone coffin broadly : coffin

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Synonyms for sarcophagus


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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 The giant sarcophagus is decorated with scenes from the Book of Gates—an Egyptian text that recounts the passage of a soul through the underworld—and is today regarded as one of the most important artifacts from Egypt’s 19th dynasty. National Geographic, "This pharaoh's painted tomb was missing its mummy," 25 June 2020 Archaeologists released a gorgeous image showing a digital reconstruction of a colorful leopard's face that once adorned an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. Fox News, "Stunning leopard face reconstructed from ancient Egyptian sarcophagus," 4 Mar. 2020 Inside the Roman Forum new exciting archaeological discovery: a hypogeum with a tuff sarcophagus from the 6th century BC. Fox News, "Ancient Rome stunner: Sarcophagus dedicated to Romulus discovered," 19 Feb. 2020 Each of Palo Verde’s three nuclear reactors are ensconced in their own bulbous concrete sarcophagus and operate almost entirely independent of one another. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "How to Refuel a Nuclear Power Plant During a Pandemic," 3 Apr. 2020 While some of the necropolis’ residents were entombed in single-occupancy sarcophagi, others were crowded into large rooms such as the one where the leopard sarcophagus was found. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, "2,000-Year-Old Leopard Face Painting Reconstructed From Egyptian Sarcophagus," 3 Mar. 2020 The shrine includes an underground chamber containing a 55-inch sarcophagus, and what experts believe may be an altar. Fox News, "Ancient Rome stunner: Sarcophagus dedicated to Romulus discovered," 19 Feb. 2020 The leopard's head would have aligned with mummy's head inside the sarcophagus, researchers from the University of Milan explained in a statement. Fox News, "Stunning leopard face reconstructed from ancient Egyptian sarcophagus," 4 Mar. 2020 The sarcophagus dates to the 6th century B.C., according to experts. Fox News, "Ancient Rome stunner: Sarcophagus dedicated to Romulus discovered," 19 Feb. 2020

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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The first known use of sarcophagus was in 1619

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Last Updated

5 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sarcophagus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2020.

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English Language Learners Definition of sarcophagus

: a stone coffin from ancient times

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