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Sarcophagus Relief Depicting Labors of Hercules

Sarcophagus Relief Depicting Labors of Hercules, 3rd-4th century C.E.; marble; Roman

This “Sarcophagus Relief Depicting Labors of Hercules” was a popular image on Roman sarcophagi, as the wealthy deceased paid homage to hero and god who was celebrated for his enormous strength. Representations of Hercules twelve labours, as per ancient legends would be sculptured on all sides of a sarcophagus.

Hercules was a Roman hero and god. The Romans adapted Hercules from the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus, the Roman equivalent Jupiter. In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and his deeds which took him to the far reaches of the Greco-Roman world and became known as the “Twelve Labours” of Hercules. The traditional order of the labours are as follows:

  • Slay the Nemean Lion.
  • Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
  • Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
  • Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
  • Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
  • Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
  • Capture the Cretan Bull.
  • Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
  • Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
  • Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
  • Steal the apples of the Hesperides.
  • Capture and bring back Cerberus.

This relief fragment depicts two of Hercules’ labours. The battle with the multi-headed hydra on the left and on the right having killed the boar of Erymanthea, he holds it across his shoulders. Other labours are referenced in sculpture, such as Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean lion knotted around his neck. Also, the rear hoof and tail of the Cretan bull can be seen at the lower left of the fragment.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                    Sarcophagus Relief Depicting Labors of Hercules
  • Date:                    4th-3rd Century B.C.
  • Artist:                  Unknown
  • Material:            Marble
  • Dimensions:      28 1/2 x 29 x 6 1/4 in. (72.4 x 73.7 x 15.9 cm)
  • Geography:        Rome
  • Museum:           Honolulu Museum of Art


“Honour is priceless and glad be he who has it.” Greek Proverb



Photo Credit: By Haa900 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons