Death and the Afterlife in the Ancient World


Joshua J. Mark
published on 04 June 2024

Belief in an afterlife was common in the ancient world, as it is today, and each culture created its own unique vision of the land that existed beyond the grave. Even with their differences, there are many similarities, including a concept of judgment for the deeds done in life and how well one had lived.

The following collection presents a brief survey of some of these beliefs. Many aspects of the ancient systems will be familiar, and some of the topics below – the Cheyenne afterlife, ghosts in ancient China, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead – address living belief systems in the present day.



Questions & Answers

Did all ancient civilizations believe in the afterlife?

Yes. All ancient civilizations show evidence of a belief in life after death.

Are all the ancient views of the afterlife the same?

No. There are some similarities between the dreary afterlife of Mesopotamia and that of Greece and Rome, but these are quite different from the view of Egypt or of the Cheyenne, where the afterlife is a mirror image of life on earth, or from the Persian, Norse, and Chinese views.

Why were funerary rites so important to ancient civilizations?

Funerary rites were important because they encouraged social cohesion through shared belief and the observance of traditional rituals.

What is the most common reason for a haunting according to ancient civilizations?

The most common reason for haunting was improper funerary rites or, worse, no rites at all. The spirit could not rest without a proper burial according to set traditions.
Subscribe to this author

About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
Joshua J. Mark is World History Encyclopedia's co-founder and Content Director. He was previously a professor at Marist College (NY) where he taught history, philosophy, literature, and writing. He has traveled extensively and lived in Greece and Germany.

Free for the World, Supported by You

World History Encyclopedia is a non-profit organization. For only $5 per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide.

Become a Member