Greenbelt, MD cremations

The History of Cremations

When you’re considering Greenbelt, MD cremations, it might interest you to know that the process of cremations has a long and extensive history as a way to dispose of the dead. Greeks introduced cremations to the Western world as early as 1000 BCE. It is probable that the Greeks adopted this funeral option as an imperative of war to make sure that warriors killed in enemy territory were able to have a funeral at home in the communities where their families were.  

Greeks chose to do their cremations on an open fire. Soldiers were cremated where they died, and the cremains were gathered up and sent back to their homes where the cremains were entombed after a funeral ceremony. Cremations did not replace ground burials – even a sprinkling of dirt over the body was considered an underground burial – but they did become associated with military service and the virtues of valor and patriotism.  

In Homer’s Iilad, cremations are seen as important and there were elaborate ceremonies associated with them. Zeus, the chief god of the Greek gods, forces Achilles to return Hector’s body to his father, King Priam of Troy, so that he could cremate it royally.   

The more heroic in battle someone was, the bigger the fire was for his cremation. Achilles himself gives his friend Patroclus a funeral pyre of 100 square feet (30 square meters), and, when Achilles dies, his funeral is even greater.  Mourning for Achilles lasts 17 days, during which the funeral pyre burns. It is extinguished with wine, and the cremains of Achilles are covered with oil and wine and placed in an urn with the cremains of Patroclus. Afterwards, a lavish celebration that includes funeral games and lots of food follows.  

Romans followed the lead of the Greeks – and Trojans – in having cremations for their heroic men of war. In Aeneid by Virgil, there is criticism about the Latin military not having any ceremonial rituals for their dead, nor even worrying about how many are dead. When the cremations are done, the cremains of the war veterans are piled together in a single heap. Roman warriors, however, had very elaborate and respectful rituals for the cremations of their dead.  

Roman citizens followed the example of their army and cremations became a status symbol among wealthy Romans. Because of this, the first columbaria (structures with slots in them to hold the cremains) were built and the enterprise became a lucrative business endeavor.  

However, by 100 CE, the Roman Empire stopped doing cremations. This was most likely because of the spread of Christianity throughout the empire. While cremations were not officially banned, burning a body was avoided because of its association with pagan customs and because it was believed that burning the body would interfere with the reunion of body and soul at the promised resurrection.  

A practical reason, however, for the decline of cremations throughout the Roman Empire was because of potential wood shortages, since so much timber was used to fuel the funeral pyres.  

Scandinavians favored cremations until their conversion to Christianity beginning in 1000 CE, and from that point on cremations were rare in western Europe, except in catastrophic situations, like the Black Death (bubonic plague) that spread like wildfire through Europe in 1656 (60,000 victims in Naples were burned in one week).  

Cremations were highly favored in Eastern cultures because there is much positive symbolism in the process and in the cremains.  

If you’d like to know more about Greenbelt, MD cremations, our knowledgeable team at Donald V. Borgwardt Funeral Home, P.A. can assist you. You can come to our funeral home at 4400 Powder Mill Rd., Beltsville, MD, 20705, or you can contact us today at (301) 937-1707