Essay Sample on History classics

In order to compare and contrast the beliefs about death and burial in the ancient civilisations of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, I will analyse a specific example from each. For the Egyptians, I have chosen to study King Khufu, and his grave the pyramid of Giza. To gain some background knowledge of Khufu I have read sections of book two of ‘The Histories’ by Herodotus. In these passages Khufu comes across in a very negative light, as a leader who is able to exploit his population for his own gains, for example Herodotus states that Khufu ‘closed the temples, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, compelling them instead to labour, one and all, in his service.’1 Of course this service was the building of his great pyramid which took twenty years to complete.

Agamemnon, the legendary Mycenaean king, is the person I have chosen to study in order to find out about death beliefs in ancient Greece. Through the study of the Odyssey I have got a slight picture of what he was like, that of the victorious and much loved King. However through the reading of the Agamemnon by Sophocles, I get a very different image of the king. In the play Agamemnon is depicted as a scheming king and one not favoured by the gods. As the play goes on I see more and more motives for Clytemnestra to take revenge on her husband, and he eventually comes to a gruesome end; first Clytemnestra wrapped him in a net, and then ‘at my (Clytemnestra) leisure choosing the best places on his helpless body I pushed the blade into him (Agamemnon)’2.

To get an idea about beliefs in the Roman world I chose to investigate the burial of Stilicho (359 – 408 AD) a Roman general and consul. By reading the works of Claudian, I get the idea that Stilicho was a very famous general who achieved lots for his country; Claudian sums up these achievements, ‘Shall I relate how Latium flourishes, how Africa has returned to her allegiance and service, how Spain knows no more the Moor as her neighbour, how Gaul has now nought to fear from a disarmed Germany?’3. Stilicho had driven back both the Moors in North Africa, as well as the ‘barbarians’ in Germany. As well as being a success on the battlefield, it also appears that he was a good politician in Rome as ‘Latium (Rome) flourished’ under Stilicho’s leadership’. Once I have compared and contrasted the three tombs, and the beliefs related to the tombs, I will then see if today’s attitudes towards death and burial have been influenced in any way by the ancient world.

A comparison of the exteriors

The exteriors of these tombs are all on a huge scale. The pyramid of Giza is by far the greatest reaching over 146 metres tall and weighing over 6 million tons. It is still a mystery about how the ancient Egyptians managed to create such a huge structure. One possible theory is that the final building incorporated a ramp which was then used to drag up the building blocks needed. This would make sense as Herodotus mentioned a ramp or causeway being built in his book ‘The Histories’. The Tholos tombs at Mycenae are also on a huge scale as they are carved into the mountain side, even the lintel blocks weigh over one hundred tons.

Stilicho’s sarcophagus is the smallest of all three, but for a Roman tomb it is still massive. The sarcophagus is double the size of a normal one, and looks as though two sarcophagi have been put together. The huge scale suggests the importance of the deceased and puts Stilicho on a par with kings.