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Press release

Beliefs about death and eternity in the Ancient world

From April 18th to December 31st, 2008

Hermes, the Helper, led them down the dank ways. Past the streams of Oceanus they went, past the rock Leucas, past the gates of the sun and the land of dreams, and quickly came to the mead of asphodel, where the spirits dwell, phantoms of men who have done with toils.

Homer, Odyssey 24.10-14

The Museum of Cultural History has opened the largest exhibition about Classical Antiquity ever held in Norway. The museum’s antiquities collection is the largest in the country and several of the objects have never been displayed before.

– We hope the exhibition will encourage our visitors to reflect about the mystery of death, and the unknown.  The collection have been built up over a period of 150 years and give important insights into the myths and beliefs about death in the Greek and Roman worlds, says  Marina Prusac, responsible for the Classical Antiquities collection at the Museum of Cultural History.

Many of the archaeological artefact found in the museum’s collections, come from graves and necropolises. They let us see how people in Antiquity viewed life, death and legacy. The objects and the memories connected to the dead are bonded together with concepts about the Afterlife through burial rituals.

Burials and Burial Rites

What awaits us on the other side? This question occupied the thoughts of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  They believed that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, would guide them to the river Styx, which they crossed with the help of Charon, the ferryman. Charon rowed the dead to the shores of Hades, the Underworld.  The dead were buried with coins or pieces of silver (Charon’s coins) to pay the ferryman.

The gates to the Underworld were guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed dog. The Underworld was ruled by Hades, the god of death, and his wife Persephone. Here the dead would dwell as shadows for eternity.

More Than Two Thousand Year Old Coffins and Grave Stones

A mummy case from Ancient Egypt, sarcophagi from Rome and Asia Minor and cinerary urns from Etruria and Carthage are among the objects on display that tell the stories of Life and the Afterlife. We also meet the citizens of Roman occupied Syria/Judaea, today’s Jordan, Syria, Israel and Palestine. In this busy cultural crossroads, there lived (and died) Roman soldiers, Jews, Arabs and Christians. Burial customs not only changed over time, but also differed in the various parts of the Roman Empire.


  • Press: Ellen Semb
  • Academic consultant: Marina Prusac
  • Project leader: Kathy Elliott
Published Dec. 22, 2020 1:04 PM