Burial Customs in Kerameikos

In this article you will read how the ancient Atheneans used to bury their dead, how they saw death from 3000 b.C.until the Roman period 300 a.C. The place we will use as a focal point is the Kerameikos, a part of Athens which was really important for daily life in ancient periods. Kerameikos is a crossroads between sacred way of Eleusis, a sacred way to Demosion Sema, the graves of all highli respected warriors and Atheneans and a road to ancient agora. Atheneans used to bury their dead in Kerameikos. The had sacred places for main Gods and Goddesses, special buildings from woman of Aphrodite, laboratories and market full of merchants of wine, food, pottery and artists.

The municipality of Kerameikos has a strong river, Heridanos, which provided clay to the pottery labs, water to Atheneans and it gave life to small plants and grass creating a beautiful landscape. Today, this river is visible at the train station Monastiraki. The name of Kerameikos comes from Kerameon, son of Diosysos and Ariadne. Dionysos was also worshipped in the municipality. As a religious place it was a crossroads betweeen different religious celebrations like the Eleysinean Mysteries and the celebration of Athena, Panathenea. In the building Pompeio statues of Demeter, Persephone and Iakchos (Dionysos) were standing. Many graves were in Kerameikos, for example in the gates of Kerameikos the Lacedaimonian tomb with the bodies of Spartans who died in 403 durring the Peloponessian War. Demosion Sema, which is until today non excavated. During different periods, Kerameikos was a place for buring the dead.

Necropolis (city of the dead) of Kerameikos

The water of Heridanos may acted as a gate through the worlds, that's why this place was used as a graveyard and also as a religious crossroads. From 3000-2000 b.C. people were buried in the north side of Heridanos. In 1500-1200 at Mycenaic Period the famous graves with hills appear and from excavation an octapus had been found in marble. From 1200-1100 more than 100 graves were in the same north side of Heridanos with artificial hills The dead were looking to the sacred way which lead to Eleusis. Kterismata are the things that the living left in the graves for the dead. Many pottery were found from mycenaic period for the dinner of the dead, jewellery from copper and iron, water vases, myrrh vases, goblets etc. From 1100-900 in Geometric Period a new custom appered of burning the dead along with kterismata and the putting the ashes in pottery and bury them to the ground. Offerings to the dead were done to the ground in which they were buried. The ancient Atheneans never forgot their dead people. They visited them, prayed to them, made offerings and asked for their help. This period the pottery is making an improvement. New techniques, perfect shapes for the vases and for the decorations are a characteristic of great art. In Geometric period 900-700 b.C. the burial of the dead is making a comeback but in parellel with the burning of them. The burial stones become more artistic and have bigger shapes. In this period the number of kterismata is growing impressively. In archaic period of 700-480 b.C. a new custom appeared. The dead body was burned in the grave. Kterismata were left on the ashes or next to them. Big channels were dug for greater offerings, especially for the famous citizens. Another characteristic of this period is the appearance of mystical symbols to the graves like: chimaira, sphinx, winged griffins, lions and dogs. In 6th century those offerings have been reduced. Peisistratos the gentle tyran of Athens gave great importance to the worship of ancient Gods like Dionysos. He founded the Great Dionysia to honor him and also Panathenea to honor Athena. In 480 Persians and other barbarians from Asia invaded Hellas and destroyed Athens. Themistocles took the citizens to Salamis and Troizina, so the Persians destroyed completely every sacred place every house every building of Athens, including the tombs of Kerameikos. After winning the barbarians, the Atheneans made their city even greater than before. Themistocles build a wall around a part of Kerameikos, though the tombs were outside the wall. Atheneans continued to prefer the burying from the burning of the body. The babies who died were put in a pottery vase of wine and they were buried in the ground.











Pottery vase (amphoreas) from the Museum of Cycladic Art in which a baby was put in and buried (entrychismos). It is dated from 10th century b.C. Notice how old symbol is the hellenic cross.

The marbles of the graves had images from mythology and from the mysteries. In 450 b.C. images from they daily life appear, images from sayng goodbye to the dead and mourning from their loss. The wealthy were buried in sarcophagus, one of them is in outside archaeological field of Kerameikos down from a plastic depot. In 307 a law reduced the artistic part of the burials, giving the end of great graves, tombs and steles. From 300 to 100 b.C. following the law and Alexander's hellenistic era the artists moved to Asia, so not many archaeological items were found. In 86 b.C. the hater of Hellenes, roman general Syllas killed so many Atheneans that all the municipality of Kerameikos were covered with blood. Things became better with Adrianos who loved Athens. The dead in the roman period had little kterismata and sometimes not even the coin fo Charon to pass them to hades with his boat. Some minor glass bottles for oils, a mirror and a garland. A marble stele of small dimensions was put with gypsum in the outer side of the grave. In the south side the temenos/temple of Hekate was built. For this we will speak to a following article. Later, german tribes Erouloi in 267 a.C. and other later slavic tribes did numerous attacks to Athens until 500 a.C. Byzantine emperor Ioustinanus build a wall around Athens in the place of the themistoclean wall and protected the city of Athens. Many times the Atheneans were moving soil and put to the old place of Kerameikos covering graves and ancient ruins. The height of the new soil came up to 8 meters.

You can see the change of the art in anathematices steles for the dead, new images of saying goodbye to them changed in 450 b.C. replacing the images of mysteries and symbols of the death and rebirth

Pamfili and Demetria, a stele before the voting of the law which forbidden to mkae great expenses in order to bury or honor your dead people. The law was an inspiration of Demetrios Phalereas

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Theurgy and Philosophy are two different methods which lead to the union with God.


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