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


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

Which can be a problem, because sometimes a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus is just a sarcophagus. John Archibald |,, "UAB space archaeologist makes you wonder," 7 July 2019 Mystery surrounded the sarcophagus since its discovery was announced last month. James Rogers, Fox News, "'Cursed' ancient Egyptian sarcophagus reveals its grisly secrets," 21 Aug. 2018 Nobody listened to reason, however, and yesterday, the sarcophagus was opened. Shoshana Wodinsky, The Verge, "The black mystery sarcophagus was opened, and now people want to drink its ‘bone juice’," 20 July 2018 Now, almost 7,500 people have signed a petition requesting to drink the sewage liquid from the ancient sarcophagus. Laura Yan, Popular Mechanics, "What's Inside This 2,000-Year-Old Mystery Sarcophagus?," 21 July 2018 Two ancient sarcophagi, unearthed during the remodeling, were visible through a glass floor leading to a wine cellar. Patricia Kowsmann, WSJ, "The Fall of the House of Ghosn," 16 Dec. 2018 The ancient sarcophagus was found by local authorities during standard archaeological excavations conducted before the construction of a new building on Al-Karmili Street. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Ptolemic-Era Black Granite Sarcophagus Discovered in Alexandria," 5 July 2018 And the sarcophagus bears no name carved into the stone—just two lion heads. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Ancient “comic strip” depicts the founding of a Roman city," 10 Oct. 2018 If that idea proves correct, the person presenting an offering to the gods in the final, central panel may be the same person buried in the large basalt sarcophagus found in the tomb. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Ancient “comic strip” depicts the founding of a Roman city," 10 Oct. 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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Statistics for sarcophagus

Last Updated

14 Jul 2019

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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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Comments on sarcophagus

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to complain fretfully

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