Traditions of inhumation

The aim of this website is to provide the review of mortuary traditions and tombstones development in Lithuania and information about design of tombstone monuments, selection of granite, maintenance of grave place etc. The topics of the website are chosen considering your questions
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'West Balts distinguished themselves for interesting urns', ( M.Gimbutien? 'Baltai priešistoriniais laikais' ('Balts in prehistoric times') V.: Mokslas, 1985. p.78 - 81), 'The urns of almost all their habitat have anthropomorphic features. Pear shape probably reminded of a human shape. In many areas, for instance, in West Mosuria and Semba, eyes were featured on the urn neck or its cover, and the urn itself was fitted out by geometric scripts.

Human face features were indistinct in the beginning: 2 small holes on the urn neck represented eyes. Sometimes tiny bump between the holes symbolized a nose. Swan neck shaped pins with such urns were found and dated 650-625 BC.

Feminine urns are very often featured with necklace: these are the imitation of wide collar type necklace consisting of many circles, found in Northern Poland and in Eastern Prussia. The urn neck embodies many holes and dashes which are probably representation of amber or glass collar. All urns included cap-shaped covers with the hole on the top of it. (Was it for soul to leave?)

It seems that urns were made individually considering sex and particularly social status of a decedent. The most outstanding urn is Grabov's urn, which is especially nicely made and richly fitted out by the mythological scenes. It is likely dedicated to a prominent person. Judging from the representation of the horses, the carriage and the sun (shield), this urn could belong to a duke.'

Bodies were buried in the early years of our era. The appearance of such traditions was influenced by the developing trade relations with other cultures (e.g. Slavonic, Germanic, Rome imperial etc.). Bodies were buried in barrows which were 5 to 7 km from a settlement. Social differentiation remained and even increased.

'The grave of the duke was found in the largest barrow, whose diameter reached 18 metres, and the diameter of others reached only 8 to 10 metres.' (M. Gimbutien?) 'About 55 years old ruler was lying unburnt on the sandy yard, under the mound of stones. The sword of 85 cm, shield, spears, axe, scissors, pincers, bone comb, silver ringed pins, silver and gold fitted out circles and square plates were found by his bones.<...>

The custom of burning was established in the 5th century of our era in the lands of Balts and since the 10th century in the lands of Curonians. It remained even after the institution of Christianity. Lithuanian Grand Dukes were burnt in state until the end of 14th century. For instance, Algirdas was burnt with 18 warhorses in the forest to the north from Vilnius in 1377.

J. Duglošas who wrote in the beginning of 15th century, mentions that every Lithuanian family had its alter in the sacred forests and burnt dead members and fellow-men of the family together with horses, saddles and expensive clothes there.

The Anglo-saxon traveller Vulfstanas who had travelled through the Aistian (Prussian) land in around 880 to 890, left very interesting description of property division and mortuary custom:

"Balts have a custom to retain decedent unburnt and surrounded by relatives and friends for around one or two months. Kings and other nobility are retained the longer the richer they are. Sometimes they lie unburnt at home for half of year. People drink, entertain and play all the time till the body is at home. When the body is brought on the fire, the same day the rest of the property is divided into 5 or 6 shares (sometimes even more), depending on the richness of decedent.

Then the largest share is laid about 1 mile from the town, then the next one is laid and the rest shares are distributed in the same way, i.e. at the distance of 1 mile. The last share is laid in the nearest position to the town, in which the decedent is lying. Then men who have the fastest horses are called in the place which is 5 or 6 miles from that place. The master of the fastest horse reaches the largest share first. When the last man gets the smallest share, everybody drifts away home with his own property share, which already belongs to him. Therefore, fast horses have been so much valued. After division of the property, men bring the decedent and burn him with weapons and clothes. Almost all the property is already wasted if decedent is retained at home for a long time.

Balts have one more custom, i.e. to burn people completely. If somebody finds unburnt bone, one must pay big ransom (it might be quite difficult to ransom). There is a tribe among Balts, which is able to make freeze and, therefore, the frozen corpse can lie for a long time without decay. If somebody brings two vessels full of either beer or water, they make them frozen whether it would be summer or winter.'

'Tombstone monuments in various Lithuanian areas have some differences. Samogitian tombstone monuments often had a shape of chapels or low crosses, roof pillars and shrines. Ancient monuments in Memel land, particularly in Nida and Rusn? (christenings (which are included in the World Heritage Lists thanks to Ugn? Karvelis who was Ambassador to UNESCO. Ed. comment.)) are made of thick boards on which the silhouettes of horses, birds, reptiles, plants etc. are carved. Most of the tombstone monuments that are associated with the religion preserve their archaic forms. Tombstone monuments represented the relation between decedent and the sky.

Tombstone monuments of Upper Lithuania and Dzukija are cross-symbols concurrently related to the elements of paganism art. It is believed that the soul of decedent allegedly settles. These are the sun, the moon, the stars, stylised or realistically imaged whipsnakes, particularly branches of oak, trees with blossoms or fruits, flowers etc.' (Pran? Dundulien? 'Senov?s lietuvi? mitologija ir religija' ('Mythology and religion of ancient Lithuanians') V.: Mokslas, 1990 p.75)

The following article will consider the development of tombstone monuments and mortuary traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries in Lithuania.

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