Greek Burial Practices
Storage_Jar_with_a_funerary_scene.JPG
"Storage Jar with a Funerary Scene." 710-700 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia

The Greek Funeral, or kêdeia, changed over time and varied in different parts of the Greek world. The Greeks would sometimes prefer inhumation as opposed to cremation. They would always focus on the orientation of the body, the location of the cemeteries, and the assemblage of grave good required. The funeral was a three-step drama with a series of regulations that governed the entire process. These three steps were:
a) prosthesis - where the body they laid out the body,
b) ekphora - its passage to the place of burial
c) deposition - of its cremated or inhumed remains.

Greek Burial Procedure

The prosthesis

During the first process of the funeral, the eyes and the mouth of the deceased were closed first. The women of the household usually washed the body of the deceased. The ceremony may be compared with the ritual bathing of the bridge before the marriage ceremony, often interpreted as denoting a barrier to be passed through in undergoing a rite of passage. Particular attention was taken with bodies of the war dead, whose wounds were washed and dressed at this stage. After the body of the deceased was bathed, it was clothed and laid out on a klinê, or a bed. The feet were always set so that they would face to the door. One or more pillows were place under the head of the deceased, and then the bed was draped in a bier-cloth. The body was clothed in a shroud, a cloth used to wrap the dead for burial that was typically white although other colors were used for the shroud. Women’s hair was arranged as in life, and women are sometimes shown wearing earrings and a necklace.

Certain categories of the dead were distinctively attired for prosthesis. The unmarried or recently married were laid out in wedding attire. Soldiers were usually buried in a hoplite uniform, which was the attire for a heavily armed foot soldier in Greece. Many dress-pins are occasionally found in the graves. The degree of ostentatiousness that was allowed in clothing of the dead was something that the government tried to regulate. Only a single bier cloth was to be used, and the total cost should not exceed three hundred drachmas, which was a basic system of coinage in Greece.

It was a widespread custom to place a crown on the head of the decrease.The placement of the crown was used to show that they had fought their contest with life, and was often seen as a sign of respect for the higher sanctity of the departed.
Funerary_Headband.JPG
“Funerary Headband.” 400-300 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia


A late innovation was the placing of an obol, ancient Greek coin, after bathing the deceased. It was placed between the teeth of the deceased as payment for Charon, an old man in Greek mythology that ferried the souls of the dead across the Styx and Acheron rivers to Hades.

The ekphora

Our understanding of the ekphora comes from depictions of this event in vases and cups found throughout Greece. The few vases that remain show the body of the deceased being transported to the gravesite by hearse drawn by horses or mules with pall-bearers known as klimakophoroi (ladder-carrier), nekrothaptai, (corpse-carriers), and taptheis which were buriers or grave-diggers. These pallbearers were usually members of the deceased’s family, although the wealthy would hire pall-bearers. Men carrying weapons would lead the procession while the women would be at the rear. In most communities, it was customary to make a sacrifice either to the deceased or to an underworld deity.

The deposition

During the deposition, no priests were required to be present for the burial ceremonies. It seems that the priest actually banned the priest from attending the gravesite. Women known as enchytristriai oversaw the ceremonies. Prayers or utterance that were deemed suitable was stated during this process. The coffin-lid was actually left open until this stage of the ceremony where it was closed. A small drink was then made to the dead at the gravesite. During the cremation process, wine was used to quench the remains of the funeral pyre or fire. The ashes were then collected and given to the closest relative in a cinerary urn or vase. After which, items would be deposited either in the grave itself or in a place near the grave. The items ranged from hydria, water jugs to lêkythoi, oil jars. All of these offerings were set on wooden planks. The Kean lawcode also stated that after the ceremonies were completed, the men and the women would leave the cemetery separately. It is believed that the women left the cemetery first to return to the home of the deceased to supervise the preparations of the banquet, which was held in honor of the dead. The men would stay behind to finish the construction of the tomb.

Inhumation or cremation was practiced simultaneously from eighth to fourth century B.C. The verb thaptô, which means to bury, which usually implies inhumation was actually used exclusively for cremation. Throughout Greece, inhumation and cremation were used interchangeably. Depending on the time period, the Greeks used one predominantly over the other. In Geometrics Greece and the Classical period, both processes were using, while in the Archaic period, the Greeks preferred to cremate their dead. In the Hellenistic period, inhumation seemed to have predominated.
Funerary_Relief_with_a_Hunter.JPG
"Funerary Relief with a hunter." 290-250 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia


Although there was a difference in the usage of these processes, there was no difference in either the rites or offerings, which have been associated with the grave, and the predominance of one process over the other would often vary from place to place.

Representation in Burial

Symbolism

There was a complete contrast with Egypt, where the preoccupation was with the survival of the body and possessions into another world. The Greeks cared more for their post-mortem reputations, and the preservation of the body had no importance. The rituals of death were simple and moving. A vigil was held at which songs of mourning would be sung and the body taken in procession to the cemetery. For those who could afford it, a stone stele or even a statue of the dead man marked a final resting place.

The image to the right is a depiction of a man on the hunt. The image was made to represent the individual. The theme of hunting would indicate the elite status of the deceased and also refers to one of the pleasures of the afterlife.

Grave Markers

Gravestone_of_Mynnia.JPG
"Gravestone of Mynnia." 370 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia

Grave goods feature less prominently than grave marker as status symbol in funerals, but were still a powerful expression. Very few objects were actually placed in the grave, but monumental earth mounds, rectangular built tombs, and elaborate marble stelai and statues were often erected to mark the grave and to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten. Immortality lay in the continued remembrance of the dead by the living.

Different cities built distinctive type of grave markers for their deceased. They all shared a common feature of representing the deceased as respective citizens. Inscriptions were often names the deceased, or traced family lineage. Family members of the dead ritually visited grave monuments with offerings.

The image to the right is a funerary monument that depics the deceased, Mynnia, standing to the right, clasping her mother;s hand. The inscription reads "Here lies Mynnia, to the sorrow of her mother, Euphroysne. Artemisias, Mynnia, [daughters] of Euteles."






References

Camp, John, and Elizabeth Fisher. The World of the Ancient Greeks. 1st Edition. New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2010. 179-181. Print.

Department of Greek and Roman Art. "Death, Burial, and the Afterlife in Ancient Greece". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dbag/hd_dbag.htm (October 2003)

Freeman, Charles. Egypt, Greece, and Rome: civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2004. 234. Print.

Garland, Robert. The Greek way of death. Cornell Univ Pr, 1985. 21-37. Print.

Morris, Ian. Burial and ancient society: the rise of the Greek city-state. 1st Edition. Cambridge Univ Pr, 1987. 44-54; 140-167. Print.

Unknown. "Commemorating the Dead." Placard. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA., 2011. Print.

Unknown. “Funerary Headband.” 400-300 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia

Unknown. "Storage Jar with a Funerary Scene." 710-700 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia

Unknown. "Funerary Relief with a hunter." 290-250 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia

Unknown. "Gravestone of Mynnia." 370 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, CA. © Alfredo E. Munguia