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The Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus was by far the piece that impressed me the most out of everything I’ve seen in Rome. Palazzo Altemps, which hosts the Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus, was one of the first museums I’ve visited during my six days in Rome.

Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus in Palazzo Altemps, Rome

Palazzo Altemps is one of the four venues of The National Museum of Rome, together with Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme and the Baths of Diocletian. After one full week of exploring the remains of Ancient Rome, the Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus was still high on my “top things to see in Rome” list.

Where Is the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus?

You’ll find this sarcophagus in Palazzo Altemps, in Rome. Palazzo Altemps is very close to Piazza Navona and it is home to a wonderful collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. The Grande Ludovisi sarcophagus is only one of the pieces belonging to the private collection of Ludovico Ludovisi, one of the rich Roman guys of the 17th century.

Palazzo Altemps in Roma, near Piazza Navona

It matters less where in Palazzo Altemps this sarcophagus is located. You’ll love each and every room of this museum, I promise you that. When I visited it, Palazzo Altemps was full of art students sitting on the ground, drawing. Those magnificent statues were their models. Apart from the art students, there were barely any visitors. I was happy to have all those beautiful things to myself for hours.

Why Is the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus Important?

I had no idea that there was a Ludovisi battle or that someone created this sarcophagus depicting Romans fighting barbarians. However, this sculpture fascinated me at a glance, making me want to know more about this battle and about all famous Roman battles for that matter.

The Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus is important from both historical and artistic point of view. First of all, it depicts a battle between Romans and barbarians. It is a memorial of this battle that apparently took place in mid third century. Discovered in 1621 in a tomb nearby Porta Tiburtina in Rome, this sarcophagus is one of the best proofs of the artistic trends of its time. It also shows how political messages were conveyed in those times.

Three Roman soldiers are more prominent than the other characters. In addition, the one in the middle of the scene has an X on his forehead. The meaning of this cross sign was that the guy belonged to the Mithraism cult. Apparently, he was a general in the Roman army. Among all Roman soldiers depicted in this scene, he is the only one who doesn’t wear a helmet. This means he was invincible.

Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus in Palazzo Altemps, Rome - detail with Roman Soldier with X on His Forehead

Who Created The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus?

The creator of the sarcophagus is unknown. This sculptor did an amazing job at carving this battle scene using a single block of Proconnesian marble. The deep relief technique creates a strong impact on the viewer. In some parts of the scene, characters are on multiple layers. It surely impressed me with its realistic appearance. You look at those Romans and barbarians and you see emotions on their faces. You look at those horses and you see their exhaustion and fear. Look how realistic the broken spear in the photo below looks. Look at the details of the hand holding the shield. I wonder how much time it took the artist to complete this scene.

The Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus detail of Barbarian soldier

It is unbelievable that someone ordered this amazing piece of work only to serve as burial monument. I’d use it as a fireplace in my living room at any given time.

Apparently, the sarcophagus was commissioned by a very rich person, as such a big marble piece and such a skilled sculptor didn’t come cheap. The way some of the details detach from the scene is amazing. Just look at those ropes and horse heads and tell me they are not stunning.

The Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus detail of horse

The Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus detail with barbarians

The Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus detail with barbarians

This battle between Romans and Ostrogoths doesn’t bear any specific name; Ludovisi is the name of the family that bought this sarcophagus.

The Ludovisi battle sarcophagus is a detailed history book page that tells the story of one of the victories of Roman soldiers against barbarians. At the same time, it is a proof of the artistic skills of sculptors in the 3rd century CE.

If you go to Rome, make sure you visit Palazzo Altemps. You’ll probably need about three hours to enjoy all its rooms, the interior courtyard, and all those beautiful statues and works of art. The Ludovisi battle sarcophagus is only one of the countless wonders in this museum.

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The Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus in Rome, in Palazzo Altemps

The Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus in Rome, in Palazzo Altemps, is a beautiful sculpture depicting one of the battles of the time



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Violeta Matei

Violeta writes for people who want to design, research and plan their own travel experiences. After two decades of working in advertising and marketing, she decided to pursue her two passions, to travel the world and to write about it. Since 2012, she authors and administrates a network of travel blogs.