Marble strigilated vase with snake handles

Period: Antonine

Date: 2nd half of the 2nd century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H.: 17 5/16 in. (44 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.31a, b


This marble vase with handles in the form of entwined serpents is arguably the finest and best preserved example known today of a Roman vessel with a strigilated pattern carved on the body. The elongated S-shaped channels were a popular form of relief decoration on vases and sarcophagi, especially in the second half of the second century and the third century A.D., and they continued to be used on late Roman and early Christian sarcophagi in the fourth century.
With their upper bodies coiled on the broad shoulder of the vase, the two bearded snakes that form the handles stretch their flat heads across the deep concavity of its neck to bite the projecting rim. The marble foot and lid carved as restoration pieces in the eighteenth or nineteenth century complement the baroque exuberance. The motif of entwined serpents is appropriate for a funerary vase. Snakes were associated with the earth and with chthonic powers, and the Greeks and Romans regarded them as guardians of sacred places, houses, and tombs. In the absence of a funerary inscription, however, it is not possible to determine whether this vase was originally intended as an urn for ashes or for purely decorative use.