Ancient Greek Burial Customs

The ancient Greeks held firm beliefs of the afterlife and the ceremonies that would help guide those recently departed toward it. In fact, by the 6th century BC, their conceptions and ideas were already well established and this is evident throughout their writings, works of art, statuary and other archaeological materials. While the images and quirks of the Greek gods may seem fanciful to many nowadays, they have far outlived the people of the time and are still very much a part of popular culture today.

greek burial

According to the belief system of the ancient Greeks, they held it as true that from the moment death occurred, the spirit would vacate the mortal body via a small action, such as a puff of air or as a sigh. Once this had occurred, the body would then be prepared for burial, which would be performed according to the traditions and customs passed down through generations. To deprive a man of proper burial rights was seen as an insult to dignity and respect.


Typically, all burial rituals were conducted by the female relatives of the departed. This would consist of 3 parts, all of which completed the ritual.  The first step, called Prothesis, would involve the body of the dead being washed thoroughly, and then covered with oil. The body would then be dressed and taken to the highest bed in the house where they were laid. Family and friends could then visit and pay their respects.


The next step is called Ekphora.  Ekphora is the moment when the body of the deceased was taken to the cemetery as part of a dawn procession. Inside the grave, it would be rare to place any objects other than the body itself. Once the grave had been filled and the earth replaced, elaborate markers were placed on top of the site. Statues were often a marker of choice to help ensure that the dead were not easily forgotten. In a way, these were the predecessors to headstones that many people have today.


Their belief was that to be remembered by the living was tantamount to immortality. From engravings of the time, it is known that female family members would visit the burial sites of the dead with small offerings, such as cakes and flowers.


The 3rd part of the ritual was Stelai, which were small inscriptions covering memorandums to help honor the dead. An image of the deceased would also often be inscribed onto the marker, and if the person was of importance, their servant, pet dogs, belongings, etc would be added to it. This used to make identifying the dead easy, but as time progressed, more and more family members would be added to images and writings and soon it would become almost impossible to know who the grave belonged to.


As the end of the 5th century BC approached, many ancient Greek families started to bury the deceased inside a basic stone sarcophagus, which would be put into the ground located inside of specially created grave precincts. These grave precincts were placed inside terraces and were buttressed by a tall wall which would face the main cemetery street. It was also around this time that any large monuments and statues were placed to the side of the terrace instead of directly above the graves. As time moved forward, so did the customs and cultures of the ancient Greeks.


If you see modern day cemeteries in Greece, you will quickly notice that many of the traditions and practices from this period of time are still very much used to some degree or another, and the dead are immortalized through the memories of the era they were once a part of.


You’ve Probably Never Heard of these Funeral Rites

mongolian funeral


While almost all of us are familiar with the traditional “Christian” style burial – and it is certainly the most frequently shown on our movies and TV shows – the truth of the matter is that our way is not necessarily the standard in other parts of the globe. There are some amazing (and to us probably bizarre) and unusual types of death and funeral rituals from other cultures around the world.


Every people has its own specific rites and rituals, many of them dating back thousands and thousands of years. Some share similar elements with other funerary traditions , but most rituals are quite a bit different than the rest – and some of them have elements that will shock and surprise you.


Below we highlight some of the world’s most interesting, unique, and distinct funeral rituals!


South Africa


Like most of the other African nations and African cultures, ancestors that have passed on are treated with a mixture of both fear and veneration – and funerals in South Africa are designed to show the utmost respect for those that have passed.


In South Africa, if someone dies inside of a home the windows of that property may be covered with ash, and all of the beds are to be removed from the dead person’s room so that mourners can enter the space. Some that are particularly traditional sacrifice a small animal in that space to appease the spirits that have gone before us, and most will wash the dirt and dust from their clothes and their bodies before they enter their own homes to avoid bringing in any bad luck.




Mongolia is probably most famous for their “sky burials”, essentially propping the body of a deceased loved one up on a high and unprotected place so that it can be exposed to the elements and consumed by wildlife. They share this ritual with those from Tibet, and it is a particularly Buddhist point of view that focuses on the needless nests of respecting a body after death as it is simply considered “luggage” in the perspective of Mongolians.


Other Mongolians do not share these similar Buddhist beliefs, but instead bury their dead in the ground in caskets that are covered in red and black paint. The grave is then surrounded with milk, rice, and clean sand to help expedite the spirits pathway to the afterlife.




Similar to those of the Mongolian culture, many Cambodians are Buddhists in their beliefs and are certain of the cycle of reincarnation. Traditional mourning and funeral rituals are not all that popular in Cambodia, as the Cambodian people (in general) believe that those that have passed are merely preparing themselves to be reborn and reincarnated all over again.


Some Cambodians will wear white to symbolize their mourning, where others may shave their heads to show respect and appreciation for those that have gone before us. Many Cambodian Buddhists believe that a Buddhist monk should be present at the moment of death, in an effort to help the new soul find its way while it prepares for its next incarnation.


At the end of the day, these rituals aren’t all that dissimilar from other rituals around the world when you get right down to the core of them. These death and funeral rituals, like all others, show a respect for those that have gone before us – if not a respect for the actual body itself, a respect for the soul and the memory of the person that has passed on.


Cultures all over the world throughout history have found interesting and creative ways to deal with the death, and it’s likely that there will be new traditions created in the future as well.