Coins for the Dead - Charon's Obol

26 May 2016  Thu

Coins came into existence in about 650 BCE, five centuries after the Trojan War in 1194-1184 BCE. Food, tools, fresh flowers and red ochre were offered to the dead during Neanderthal burials hundred thousand years ago. They were probably offered so that the dead could enjoy their afterlife. 100 years later, coins were also found in graves. Mostly a single, low-value coin was placed on the mouth, near the hands or feet of the diseased. They were sometimes scattered in the grave as well. Burned coins are sometimes found with the ashes in an urn in case of cremation.

These coins are known as Charon’s obols. As per Greek mythology Charon was a boatman who carried souls of the dead across a river named Acheron to their eternal destination. The dead who could not pay the fare were abandoned at the riverbank.

An obol was a small silver coin which valued at one-sixth of a drachma. The standard weight of an obol was 0.72 grams in Athens, which is slightly lighter than the theoretical weight. Before coins came into existence, iron roasting spits were used as exchange. The Greek word “obol” meant “roasting spit”. They were also offered to the dead before the obols.

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