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Ancient Greek Burial Rituals
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Ancient Greek Burial Rituals
Why Is a Proper Burial So Important?
According to Greek history, proper burials—along with appropriate rituals—were very important in order for the body to go into the afterlife. However, if these rituals were not properly completed, the body was believed to be destined to suffer between worlds until an individual's rite of passage into the underworld were completed. This is why it was so important for Antigone to properly bury her brother. In our culture today, giving a person the right burial is a sign of respect for those who have died. The Greeks believed that at the moment of death the
, or spirit of the dead, left the body as a little breath or puff of wind. The deceased was then prepared for burial according to the time-honored rituals.
Changes in Burials:
Every few years, the ancient Greeks made their burial rituals more complex. The early aristocratic Greeks built pit-like, single graves in the ground or out of rock. This was the most basic of all burials. The archaic period (600-479 BC) was when the Greeks began making multiple graves in underground chambers, raised mounds, or masonry-built tombs. These tombs were often found decorated with gold and jewelery. The more elaborate your final resting place was, the wealthier you were. Early Mycenaeans (1600-1400 BC) added weapons and pottery with small amounts of gold and jewelery. Nowadays, in order to connect with their ancestry, Greeks choose to hold extravagant, heroic-style burials.
How Was it Done?
There were three parts to a classic burial. The first was the prothesis, or laying out of the body. The women readied the body with flowers, dresses, and crowns. In order to prevent the psyche, or phantom/ghost, from leaving the body, the corpse's mouth and eyes were shut, leaving the body in an ankle-length garment. The body was allowed to sit for two days so that it could be viewed. The mourners came, grieved, and sang and prayed to the gods. The bodies were often set upon piles of dead, dried leaves and branches to be burn. Before they set fire to the altar, they set two gold coins on each eyes (the toll for the ferry on the river Styx). This was where the body or ashes were laid and the tomb was decorated with extravagant decorations. On the third day before dawn, the body was taken to the tomb by a cart for burial.
The white-ground lekythoi were vases that were used as a gift to the deceased between 470 and 400 BC. This was only one of the many gifts put into the tomb. After the burial, the perideiprion or funeral party would follow.
The smoke was symbolic of their soul or being leaving the world, similar to the Christian significance of incense. The ashes themselves were a to be spread across the earth, Gaea, and become one with the mother goddess again.
According to Homeric belief, the Greeks saw death as a time when the psyche left the body to enter Hades. This psyche was believed to be visible, but not touchable. Also, one of the major reasons why ghosts would show themselves to the people of ancient Greece was in order to demand proper burial. Homer also believed that death was always caused by human error. The god's were were represented through many things and people such as the cyclopes in
which represented greediness, selfishness, and uncivilized men. These are examples of human error which was thought to be the cause of death. (5)
The concept of punishment after death or state of blessedness began to form at the beginning of Classical times. From here, the belief that if the body was not given a proper burial according to Greek ritual, the soul would remain trapped between the worlds of the living and the worlds of the dead, underworld.
Beliefs After Death
In general, the Greeks feared death.The journey to Hades after death was considered frightening .To make this journey comfortable, they added gifts of jewels and personal property to burials. The first part of the journey required crossing the river Styx using coins. Then, you would encounter the three-headed guard dog Cereberus who would have to be appeased with a honey cake. They believed that the Underworld offered punishment for the bad, but pleasure for the good. The Elysian Fields, a sunny and green paradise, was the home for the good. Those who lead a bad life were condemned to torture. 
Greece and Rome held great annual festivals for their beliefs in spirits. The feast of Anthesteria occurred sometime in February and March in Athens, Greece. These celebrations consisted of rituals and sacrifices and at sunset on the last day, the master of the house would say, "Away, Spirits; Anthesteria is over".
Fascination of the afterlife drove Greeks to create these rituals and beliefs because the thing they wanted most was for their dead was for them to survive in spirit and be comfortable in their eternal life. This was also a time for the family to show off their wealth; however, improper rituals could lead the family to be haunted by a loved one. 
When someone was buried, their body was carried outside the city, followed by friends and relatives. Rich people sometimes hired extra people to follow the procession to weep, to wail, and to tear at their hair and clothes (a sign of mourning to the Greeks). The women on the pot shown at the top of the page are walking in a procession, which may be a picture of a funeral. At the time this picture was painted (8th century BC), large pots were used to mark graves. When the procession reached the burial place, the body might be buried, or it could be burnt, and the ashes buried. The dead person was often buried with some of their belongings. A woman might be buried with some of her jewelry, pots of make-up and perfume, and often with tools used for spinning and weaving; and a man might be buried with his weapons. Pottery is often found, and so are small coins which were placed on the eyes of the body and used as tokens into the underworld.
Burials are very important in Greek plays like
. In both plays, someone is denied a proper burial and someone else tries to fix that. Is that because of the writer? I honestly think not. As shown above, burials are very important to Greeks and of course to other religions as well. Greeks seem to feel honored to be passed on the the next life in the Underworld. I have also noticed that in many old/ancient plays suicide or giving up your life is an honorable or brave thing to do. Most people willingly give up their life to become a hero or to receive a reward in the next life.
Origins of Greek Burial Pottery:
During someone's death the bodies of the deceased would be cremated, and once they were cremated their ashes would be placed in a special hand-crafted vase.
The pictures above are some examples of the urns that held the ashes of the people. When the people had been alive they would save money to buy these costly vases. Sometimes people would get lucky, people who normally made urns would have competitions and the prize would be an urn. Either way the urns would be a prized possession because this is what would hold their bodies till the under world. On the other hand, people who were not going to be cremated still wanted these forms of pottery. Sometimes these vases would be found within the tomb of the person. These vases, were used as a type of accessory, or piece of furniture. On rare occasions there would not just be one of the vases in there, but some of the very wealthy people bought more than one vase to put in their tombs. The vases were not just one size, they varied from big to small. Their size depended on a lot of things. If the vase was very large and it was decorated it would normally be watercolored, as any other vase. The bigger vases on the other hand would take much longer to paint, and since they d
id the vases would sometimes be put in the tomb at the time of the burial. The reason why they would put the vase in the tomb and not give it to them earlier is that since the vase is painted with water colors it is very easy to come off if rubbed or handled to much. 
 "Death and Burial."
The World of the Greeks.
15 March 2008. <
 “The Great Unknown- Some Views of the Afterlife.” 17 March 2008.
 Bagwell, Kristina. "Burial Rites and the Afterlife of Ancient Greece." 15 March 2008. <
 "Ancient Greek Beliefs." <
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