Religion and Death

The Greek Cemetery

Most Greek cities placed their cemeteries along the main roads outside the city walls in order to avoid disease and religious pollution, and perhaps even to avoid wasting valuable urban space. In the case of Athens, burial inside the walls was legally banned around 500 BC Stone stelae with either sculpted or painted scenes and inscribed epitaphs were the prevailing form of grave-marker from the 6th to the 4th centuries. Occasionally free-standing statues served the same purpose. Stone vases mimicking the terracotta vases commonly associated with burial rites were also used as markers. Athens's most famous cemetery was in the northwest corner, in the Kerameikos or Potters' Quarter outside the Sacred and Dipylon Gates. Cremation and inhumation burials dating back to the 11th century BC Sub-Mycenaean period have been excavated here by Greek and German archaeologists. During the later Geometric period (ca. 760-700 BC) the Kerameikos tombs were marked by large funerary amphoras, some as tall as 5 feet. During the 7th century, earth mounds were constructed over both individual graves and family plots, and large vases continued to serve as markers.

Hellenistic Hadra Cremation Hydria
3rd century BC
This type of vessel was frequently used to hold the ashes of the cremated dead, and many examples come from the rock-cut chamber tombs and other types of burials associated with Hellenistic Alexandria. It is also known from Crete, where it might have been made, and elsewhere.
H. 34.8; L. 29.0; Dia. 22.5 cm. UM neg. S4-97436-7.
Attic Red Figure Chous
ca. 450-440 BC
Maltese dog under a hanging bunch of grapes, perhaps illustrating a fable. Children's burials often contain miniature vases like this one, while adult graves rarely do. Perhaps, like rattles and dolls, the miniatures were used as toys by the child while still living. It is unclear whether this particular piece was intended for a child's grave, since similar pieces also turn up in sanctuary votive deposits and the foundation deposits of houses.
H. 10.0; Dia. 7.5 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project. (83k)

Apulian Red Figure Panathenaic Type Amphora
4th century BC
By the Ginosa Painter
On loan, Philadelphia Museum of Art
This South Italian vessel depicts offerings being made to the dead. A woman approaches, holding a wreath and a cosmetic box. The man stretches out a large offering bowl. The two converge on a small pedimented structure representing either an elaborate grave stele or some form of shrine to the heroized dead. The shield and helmet inside the door suggest that the deceased was a soldier.
H. 60.5; Dia. 25.0 cm. UM neg. S4-90903. (99k)

© Copyright 2002