Fallen Soldiers and the Gods

Religious Considerations in the Retrieval and Burial of the War Dead in Classical Greece


  • Sarah L. Veale York University




Death, Greek History, Greek Paganism, Greek Religion, Ancient Religion, Ancient History


The retrieval and subsequent burial of the war dead in classical Greece was considered an important component of any given battle. Scholarship has observed how the retrieval of the war dead in the classical period could determine the outcome of a battle, as well as how the commemoration of the war dead functioned as a tool of civic identity, especially in the city of Athens. Although the above observations provide sufficient motivation for the recovery of the battle dead, this paper proposes an additional impetus for their collection: religion. Although scholars have often noted that Greek customs surrounding the war dead were motivated by religious concerns, what those religious concerns were have not been elaborated. This paper remedies this gap by exploring the relationship between the war dead and the gods. In this paper, I argue that the war dead were considered the property of the gods and were afforded special protections for this reason. Moreover, the proper burial of the war dead was necessary to transfer the war dead from the custody of the human world to the gods below. Such a transfer, I argue, maintained the relationship between the polis and the gods, ensuring its continued existence.

Author Biography

Sarah L. Veale, York University

Sarah L. Veale is a researcher of Greco-Roman antiquity. She has published on magic, philosophy, and the socio-cultural dimensions of religion in the ancient Mediterranean.


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How to Cite

Veale, S. L. (2019). Fallen Soldiers and the Gods: Religious Considerations in the Retrieval and Burial of the War Dead in Classical Greece. Pomegranate, 21(1), 5–25. https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.37900