Sometime between 500 B.C. and 200 B.C., residents of the Greek colony of Kamarina in Sicily dug two graves for two bodies. They pinned down each body with large rocks or pottery; if the bodies awoke from the dead, they could not escape.
Reanimated corpses did not, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, ravage the Greek Empire then, but ancient Greeks certainly believed they could. Instances of both necrophobia (fear of the dead) and necromancy (the practice of communicating with the dead) are common in ancient Greek culture, and are the focus of new research by Carrie Weaver, a lecturer and recent Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.
The zombies of ancient Greece would put the zombies of American pop culture to shame — if only because they were really, truly feared.
“Greeks imagined scenarios in which reanimated corpses rose from their graves, prowled the streets and stalked unsuspecting victims, often to exact retribution to them in life,” Weaver wrote in an article published in Popular Archaeology magazine.
Weaver analyzed 258 burials and skeletons from the Passo Marinaro necropolis in Kamarina, which was colonized in 598 B.C., part of an expansion of the Greek Empire between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. that reached into southern Italy.
Weaver said that bioarchaeologist Anastasia Tsaliki found examples of similar activities around the Greek world and across multiple centuries.
Around the Kamarina cemetery, Weaver also cataloged 11 curse tablets — known as “katadesmoi” — that were commissioned by mediums (goetes) and requested the intervention of spirits. Placing the tablets in a grave under the cover of night and reciting their inscriptions, ancient Greeks believed, would recruit spirits to remedy an injustice like theft or murder, or improve one’s life in business or love.