Codrin Benţa, Consideraţii asupra descoperirilor numismatice din complexele funerare

Revista „Cercetări istorice” – XXI-XXIII / 2002-2004


All along the pagan or Christian history, in the absence of some “Books of the dead” which have agreed on the process of funerary rites and rituals numerous ceremonies and habits have been perpetuated among which the placement of coin tombs constituted an important thing.

The discovery of coins in funerary contexts is usually explained by archeologists as being the myth of Charon’s mite. Nevertheless, if we observe the evolution of this habit of placing coins in tombs which has been present since ancient times till nowadays, we notice that the ritual appears in a remarcable diversity of manifestations and thus urges us to think more about its purpose.

Even in the Roman – Greek world, where the mythologic character Charon had been wellknown by everybody, the coins were placed in tombs with diverse purposes, not necessarily being connected with facilitating the passage of the soul of the dead in the “world beyond ” in Charon’s boat. Th is supposition derives fr om the great number of coins found in ancient tombs and fr om the previousness of the practice of placing coins in funerary sites to the moment of Charon’s innitial presence in the Greek mythology.

In their majority, archeologists who discover a coin or two in an ancient tomb consider that the money was due to Charon, but when the number of coins excedes three in the same tomb, we may assert that we are dealing with a “funerary deposit” off ered to the dead person for the eventual expenses in “the aft er world”.

In the contents of this approach I have analyzed the ancient literary mentionings that refer in “Charon’s Myth” , some iconographic representations of this character and various discoveries (in time and space) of coins which, in principle, were considered to have placed in tombs for the imaginary payment for the traversing of Styx.

In this way, I concluded that this funerary habit (of placing coins in incineration or inhumation tombs) is also present beyond the Mediterranean world at primitive or civilized populations with diverse acceptions. It appears at the Celts, Slaves, Germanic peoples, Iranians, Vikings, Avars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Armenians, Indians, Chinese or Japonese etc. in various forms of manifestations in long periods of time which sometimes fr om ancient times to our days.

The complexity of this practice ows to the frequent changes in the religious dogma of a nation or to the differences between the religions in which the custom of coin placing in tombs existed. In this way, the patterns and variability existent in the funerary use of coins contradict the unique signifficance attributed to this custom (that of “mite for Charon”). Th e precise thing is the fact that there is a tight connection between money and “the world beyond”, because money has an invisible abstract power with which the living could influence the intangible and invisible world of the dead.