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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(νεκρόπολις , city of the dead), a term applied to the cemeteries in the vicinity of ancient cities. It occurs in classical antiquity only as applied to a suburb of Alexandria, lying to the west of that city, having many shops and gardens, and places suitable for the reception of the dead. The corpses were received and embalmed in it. Here Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, applied the asp to her breast, to avoid the ignominy of being led in triumph by Augustus. The site of the necropolis of ancient Alexandria seems to have been where are now the catacombs, consisting of galleries and tombs hollowed out of the soft calcareous stone of which the city is built, and lying at the extremity of the city. (See ALEXANDRIA).

The term necropolis is now, however, used in a much more extended sense, and applied to all the cemeteries of the ancient world. These consisted either of tombs constructed in the shape of houses and temples, and arranged in streets, like a city of the dead; or else of chambers hollowed in the rock, and ornamented with fagades, to imitate houses and temples. Such cemeteries are to be distinguished from the columbaria, or subterraneous chambers of the Romans, in which their urns were deposited; or the rows of tombs along the Via Appia; or the cemeteries of the Christians, whose bodies were deposited in the ground. (See CATACOMBS).

The most remarkable necropolises are at Thebes, in Egypt, situated in a place called Kurneh, on the left bank of the Nile, capable of holding three thousand persons, and which it is calculated must at least have contained five thousand mummies: those of El-Kab, or Eileithyia; of Beni-Hassan, or the Speos Artemidos; and of Madfun, or Abydos; of Siwah, or the Oasis of Ammon. (See EGYPT). In Africa, the necropolis of Cyrene is also extensive; and those of Vulci, Corneto, Tarquinii, and Capua are distinguished for their painted tombs, (See TOMB), and the numerous vases and other objects of ancient art which have been exhumed from them. Large necropolises have also been found in Lycia, Sicily, and elsewhere. See Strabo, 18, pages 795-799; Plutarch, Vit. Anton.; Letronne, Journal des Savans (1828), page 103; Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, 1:412; 2:276-358. (See CEMETERY).

In this connection we may notice that consorting or living with the dead has been observed as a characteristic of diseased melancholy. Individuals have inhabited graveyards, preferring the proximity and association of corpses with which they had no tie to the cheerfulness and comforts of home; and there is recorded one notorious case, in which a gentleman, although on bad terms with his wife while alive, carried her body with him through India, scandalizing the natives, and outraging the feelings of all, by placing the coffin under his bed. This hideous tendency may enter into certain developments of cannibalism, where the feast is celebrated in memory of a departed friend rather than in triumph over a slain foe (Chambers). Among the Arabians the ghouls are fairies that are supposed to feed on human flesh. Symptoms of this necrophilism may be traced in the Gadarene maniacs of the Gospels (Matthew 7:28, etc.). (See DEMONIAC).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Necropolis'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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