Exposing the Shady Secrets of Charon’s Obols: Spirit Coins of Ancient Greece

Charon ’ south obols were coins purportedly used by the ancient Greeks for funerary purposes. More precisely, the impression is that these coins were used by the shades ( roughly equivalent to the concept of ‘ heart ’ or ‘ ghost ’ ) of the dead to pay for their travel across the River Styx or Acheron into the Underworld. In greek mythology, the ferryman of the absolutely is a design called Charon, who was the son of Nyx and Erebos. thus, according to literary sources, if a dead person was to be buried, a coin would be placed in his / her mouth anterior to the burying. Nevertheless, the archaeological evidence seems to paint a unlike picture compared to the written sources .

The Ferryman of Hades

In Greek mythology, the kingdom of the living is separated from the Underworld by the River Styx and Acheron. In order for the shades of the dead to enter into the Underworld, they were required to cross either one of these rivers. It seems that the entirely way of doing so was to get onto the boat that was operated by Charon, the ferryman of Hades .

A 19th-century interpretation of Charon's crossing by Alexander Litovchenko.
A 19th-century interpretation of Charon ‘s crossing by Alexander Litovchenko. ( Public Domain )
The concept of Charon as a ferryman was a late summation to Greek mythology, as this character does not appear in any works of the early on greek poets. For exemplar, in Hesiod ’ randomness Theogony, which is about the birth of the gods, there is no mention any of Charon .
however, the idea that there was a ferryman plying the waters of the Styx and / or Acheron seems to have caught on. numerous references to this calculate can be found in late literary works, including those of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Ovid, and Virgil .
Crossing the Styx, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1861.
Crossing the Styx, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1861. ( Public Domain )

Obols or the Earthly Plane

Charon has besides been portrayed in greek vase paintings. In this medium, he is normally depicted as “ an despicable, bearded man with a crooked nose, wearing a conic hat and tunic ”. In addition, he is much shown standing in his gravy boat holding an oar, and waiting to receive the shades of the newly dead .

Charon does not ferry his passengers for free, and they are, according to Greek impression, required to pay him an obol for his service. In ordain to have this total of money in the afterlife, the dead needed to be buried with this coin in their mouths. Some sources mention that if a tad was not able to pay the ferryman, he / she would need to wander on the earthly side of the river for a hundred years before being allowed to cross it .
Charon as depicted by Michelangelo in his fresco ‘The Last Judgment’ in the Sistine Chapel.
Charon as depicted by Michelangelo in his fresco ‘ The survive Judgment ’ in the Sistine Chapel. ( Public Domain )
The greek news ‘ obol ’ in the first place meant ‘ roasting spit ’, as bundles of iron roasting spits once served as a type of currency before coins were minted. When coins came into function, the obol was the name given to the modest silver coins that were valued at one one-sixth of a drachma. later on, i.e. after the seduction of Greece by the Romans, the obol was used to describe any low prize bronze coin .

Literary and Archaeological Evidence for Obols

Whilst the literary sources mention specifically that the obol was placed in the sass of the die, archaeological tell seems to tell a different floor. only a small symmetry of burials found in ancient greek cemeteries contain any coins at all. In other words, this practice seems to have not been american samoa wide-spread as the literary sources suggest. In many of these burials, it has been found the dead were buried with more than a single coin. additionally, these coins were not always of low value, and were placed on respective parts of the consistency, not just in the mouth.

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Roman skull with an obol (an Antoninus Pius dupondius) in the mouth.
Roman skull with an obol ( an Antoninus Pius dupondius ) in the mouthpiece. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
This suggests that the literary sources entirely recorded one of the funerary customs practiced by the ancient Greeks. apart from the placement of obols in the mouths of the dead, it is probably that there were other practices as well, though these were not given much attention, if at all. On top of that, it is besides potential that the reasons for placing coins with the dead had other purposes that paying for a gravy boat ride across the River Styx or Acheron .
Featured double : Charon and Psyche ( 1883 ), a pre-raphaelite rendition of the myth by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. Photo source : public world
By : Wu Mingren

References

Alchin, L., 2015. Charon. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //www.talesbeyondbelief.com/greek-gods-mythology/charon.htm
Atsma, A. J., 2015. Kharon. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Kharon.html
Crawford, B., 2016. religious Death Rituals & Burial Customs of Ancient Greece. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //people.opposingviews.com/religious-death-rituals-burial-customs-ancient-greece-1565.html
Gill, N., 2016. Charon. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //ancienthistory.about.com/od/cgodsandgoddesses/g/101609Charon.htm

Griffith, R., 2016. Obol. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/greekpast/4792.html
Markowitz, M., 2016. ancient Coins – Charon ’ s Obol Coins for the Dead. [ Online ]
Available at : hypertext transfer protocol : //www.coinweek.com/ancient-coins/ancient-charons-obol-coins-dead/
Stevens, S. T., 1991. Charon ‘s Obol and other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice. Phoenix, 45 ( 3 ), pp. 215-229 .

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