Death and Burial in Ancient Greece

It was very important to the Greeks to be buried in their homeland by their close family. (4) The rituals accompanying death were often expensive, and over time laws were enacted that limited the cost of funerals. Although women were a crucial element of the rituals, only women who were closely related to the deceased or over the age of sixty were allowed to participate. The burial rites began on the day after death. The eyes and mouth of the dead person were closed, the body was washed and anointed, with a laurel branch used to sprinkle sanctified water. A coin for Charon was fixed between the teeth (though later this was substituted with a fake coin called "ghost money" which was left in the mouth, hand or loose in the grave). The body was then wrapped in a linen shroud and crowned with garlands, and sometimes it was laid on vine branches. Oregano was put on the body to ward off evil spirits. Finally, the body was laid on a bier, with its feet facing the door, in the house for a whole day; this was called prothesis. Women lamented, and men came to pay their respects. On the third day after death, before sunrise, the corpse was brought out in a procession to the cemetery; this was called ekphora. The women displayed violent exhibitions of grief to please the dead spirit and sang a funeral dirge; but in some places laws limited the noise during the procession. Vase paintings show female mourners in a particular ritual position, with their hands placed on their heads. Sometimes the mourners made themselves physically unclean as an expression of their grief.

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