What Were the Funeral Traditions of Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, funeral traditions played a significant role in honoring the deceased and providing closure for the bereaved. These traditions varied depending on the time period and region, but they all shared common elements that reflected the beliefs and values of ancient Greek society. Let’s explore some of the key funeral customs and rituals of ancient Greece.

Burial Customs

1. Burial vs. Cremation:

Ancient Greeks primarily practiced burial rather than cremation. They believed that burying the body in the ground would ensure a peaceful afterlife for the deceased.

2. Grave Goods:

Ancient Greeks often buried their dead with various grave goods, including personal belongings, pottery, jewelry, and even weapons. These items were intended to accompany the deceased into the afterlife and provide comfort or assistance.

Funeral Rites

1. Lamentation:

Upon the death of a loved one, family members and friends would engage in lamentation—a ritualistic expression of grief through mourning songs and wailing. Lamentation served as a cathartic process for both individuals and the community as a whole. Funeral Procession:

The funeral procession was an important part of ancient Greek funeral customs.

The body would be carried on a bier or stretcher by family members or friends while mourners followed behind. This procession often included hired mourners who would express their grief loudly to honor the deceased.

Burial Rituals

1. Libations:

Prior to burial, mourners would pour libations—a liquid offering such as wine or oil—onto the ground as a symbolic gesture of honor and respect for the deceased. These libations were believed to nourish and provide comfort to the soul of the departed. Funeral Games:

In some cases, funeral games were organized as part of the burial rituals. These athletic competitions, such as running races, wrestling matches, and chariot races, were held to commemorate and honor the deceased.

Mourning Period

1. Ekphora:

Following the burial, a period of mourning would ensue.

This period allowed family members and friends to grieve in private and pay their respects to the deceased. During this time, daily activities would often be suspended or altered as a sign of mourning.

2. Memorial Celebrations:

Ancient Greeks believed in commemorating the dead through memorial celebrations. These events typically took place annually at the gravesite or in a designated communal space where family and friends would gather to remember and honor their loved ones.


In ancient Greece, funeral traditions were deeply rooted in religious beliefs and cultural practices. The rituals surrounding death and burial served not only as a means of honoring the deceased but also as a way for individuals and communities to come together in grief and find solace in shared mourning.

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