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The Appropriation of Death In Classical Athens

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posted on 2021-11-10, 02:19 authored by Donnison, Alexandra

This thesis is about the change in Athenian burial practices between the Archaic and Classical periods (500-430 B.C.E.), within the oikos and the polis. I argue that during this period there was a change in both burial practice and ideology. I hypothesise that the Homeric conception of death was appropriated by the state leading to a temporary ideological change in Athens between 500-430 B.C.E., with the result that the aristocratic Athenian oikoi exhibited a trend of anti-display. There then followed another shift in ideology, whereby the Athenian aristocrats reappropriated death, taking state funerary symbols and applying them to private death, which then resulted in the re-emergence of lavish yet iconographically different grave monuments. This is a study of varied and disparate sources ranging from archaeological evidence to later literature. It is divided into three parts. Chapter One outlines exactly what the changes in funeral practice were between the Archaic and Classical periods. It focuses on the decline of grave markers, the shift to extramural burial, the change in how funerals and death were depicted, the increased emphasis on state burial and the change in both public and private mourning practices around 480 B.C.E. I argue that there was a definite change in how the Athenians interacted with their dead, both physically and ideologically. Chapter Two examines the reasons behind the change in burial practices around 480 B.C.E. I argue that it is improbable such a complex change had simple factors or motivations behind it but rather that the most likely cause of such a shift in attitude was a combination of complex reasons, where a few predominate, such as appropriation of death by the polis resulting in glorified state burials and development of democracy. Chapter Three examines the re-emergence of grave monuments. The archaeological record reveals a reappearance of stone funerary sculpture a decade or so after the middle of the fifth century (c. 440-430 B.C.E.). I argue that the re-emergence of funeral sculpture was influenced heavily by foreign workers who brought with them their own burial practices which in turn inspired Athenian aristocrats to re-appropriate death and begin erecting private funeral monuments, however instead of only using Homeric imagery, as they had in earlier periods, they appropriated state symbols and incorporated them into private monuments.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Trundle, Matthew