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The gatepost at the entrance to the Western Necropolis in Glasgow. The gatepost at the entrance to the Western Necropolis in Glasgow.jpg
The gatepost at the entrance to the Western Necropolis in Glasgow.

A necropolis (plural necropolises, necropoles, necropoleis, necropoli [1] ) is a large, designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments. The name stems from the Ancient Greek νεκρόπολιςnekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead".


The term usually implies a separate burial site at a distance from a city, as opposed to tombs within cities, which were common in various places and periods of history. They are different from grave fields, which did not have structures or markers above the ground. While the word is most commonly used for ancient sites, the name was revived in the early 19th century and applied to planned city cemeteries, such as the Glasgow Necropolis.

Necropoleis in the ancient world


Mastabas in the Giza Necropolis with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background. Flickr - Gaspa - Giza, mastabe e piramide di Chefren.jpg
Mastabas in the Giza Necropolis with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background.

The Giza Necropolis of ancient Egypt is one of the oldest and probably the most well-known necropolis in the world since the Great Pyramid of Giza was included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Aside from the pyramids, which were reserved for the burial of Pharaohs, the Egyptian necropoleis included mastabas, a typical royal tomb of the early Dynastic period.[ citation needed ]


Tumuli are placed along a street in the Banditaccia necropolis of Cerveteri, Italy. Banditaccia (Cerveteri)DSCF6681.jpg
Tumuli are placed along a street in the Banditaccia necropolis of Cerveteri, Italy.

The Etruscans took the concept of a "city of the dead" quite literally. The typical tomb at the Banditaccia necropolis at Cerveteri consists of a tumulus which covers one or more rock-cut subterranean tombs. These tombs had multiple chambers and were elaborately decorated like contemporary houses. The arrangement of the tumuli in a grid of streets gave it an appearance similar to the cities of the living. [2] The art historian Nigel Spivey considers the name cemetery inadequate and argues that only the term necropolis can do justice to these sophisticated burial sites. [3] [4] Etruscan necropoleis were usually located on hills or slopes of hills. [5]


In the Mycenean Greek period predating ancient Greece, burials could be performed inside the city. In Mycenae, for example, the royal tombs were located in a precinct within the city walls. This changed during the ancient Greek period when necropoleis usually lined the roads outside a city. There existed some degree of variation within the ancient Greek world however. Sparta was notable for continuing the practice of burial within the city. [6]


Naqsh-e Rustam. The order of the tombs in Naqshe-e Rustam, from left to right is: Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I, Xerxes I. Naghsh-e rostam, Iran, 2016-09-24, DD 20-24 PAN.jpg
Naqsh-e Rustam. The order of the tombs in Naqshe-e Rustam, from left to right is: Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I, Xerxes I.

Naqsh-e Rustam is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km (7.5 mi) northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran. The oldest relief at Naqsh-i Rustam dates to c. 1000 BC. Though it is severely damaged, it depicts a faint image of a man with unusual headgear and is thought to be Elamite in origin. The depiction is part of a larger image, most of which was removed at the command of Bahram II. Four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face at a considerable height above the ground. The tombs are known locally as the "Persian crosses", after the shape of the facades of the tombs. Later, Sassanian kings added a series of rock reliefs below the tombs.

Modern necropoleis

Necropoleis have been built in modern times. The world's largest remaining operating necropolis from the Victorian era, for example, is Rookwood Necropolis, in New South Wales, Australia.

See also

Related Research Articles

Tomb Repository for the remains of the dead

A tomb is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes. Placing a corpse into a tomb can be called immurement, and is a method of final disposition, as an alternative to for example cremation or burial.

Saqqara Burial ground in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara or Saccara in English, is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara contains numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb, and a number of mastaba tombs. Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km.

Naqsh-e Rostam Ancient necropolis in Iran

Naqsh-e Rostam is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran, with a group of ancient Iranian rock reliefs cut into the cliff, from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods. It lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab, with a further four Sassanid rock reliefs, three celebrating kings and one a high priest.

Tarquinia town in Lazio, Italy

Tarquinia, formerly Corneto, is an old city in the province of Viterbo, Lazio, Italy known chiefly for its ancient Etruscan tombs in the widespread necropoleis or cemeteries which it overlies, for which it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

Giza pyramid complex Archaeological site on the Giza Plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt

The Giza Pyramid Complex, also called the Giza Necropolis, is the site on the Giza Plateau in Greater Cairo, Egypt that includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza. All were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The site also includes several cemeteries and the remains of a workers village.

Abusir Village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Abusir is the name given to an Egyptian archaeological locality – specifically, an extensive necropolis of the Old Kingdom period, together with later additions – in the vicinity of the modern capital Cairo. The name is also that of a neighbouring village in the Nile Valley, whence the site takes its name. Abusir is located several kilometres north of Saqqara and, like it, served as one of the main elite cemeteries for the ancient Egyptian capital city of Memphis. Several other villages in northern and southern Egypt are named Abusir or Busiri. Abusir is one relatively small segment of the extensive "pyramid field" that extends from north of Giza to below Saqqara. The locality of Abusir took its turn as the focus of the prestigious western burial rites operating out of the then-capital of Memphis during the Old Kingdom 5th Dynasty. As an elite cemetery, neighbouring Giza had by then "filled up" with the massive pyramids and other monuments of the 4th Dynasty, leading the 5th Dynasty pharaohs to seek sites elsewhere for their own funerary monuments.

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Caere is the Latin name given by the Romans to one of the larger cities of southern Etruria, the modern Cerveteri, approximately 50-60 kilometres north-northwest of Rome. To the Etruscans it was known as Cisra, to the Greeks as Agylla and to the Phoenicians as Kyšryʼ.

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Vulci or Volci was a rich and important Etruscan city.

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The Valley of the Kings, also known as the Valley of the Gates of the Kings, is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, rock-cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom.

Etruscan art

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy between the 10th and 1st centuries BC. From around 750 BC it was heavily influenced by Greek art, which was imported by the Etruscans, but always retained distinct characteristics. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta, wall-painting and metalworking especially in bronze. Jewellery and engraved gems of high quality were produced.

Funerary art Art associated with a repository for the remains of the dead

Funerary art is any work of art forming, or placed in, a repository for the remains of the dead. The term encompasses a wide variety of forms, including cenotaphs, tomb-like monuments which do not contain human remains, and communal memorials to the dead, such as war memorials, which may or may not contain remains, and a range of prehistoric megalithic constructs. Funerary art may serve many cultural functions. It can play a role in burial rites, serve as an article for use by the dead in the afterlife, and celebrate the life and accomplishments of the dead, whether as part of kinship-centred practices of ancestor veneration or as a publicly directed dynastic display. It can also function as a reminder of the mortality of humankind, as an expression of cultural values and roles, and help to propitiate the spirits of the dead, maintaining their benevolence and preventing their unwelcome intrusion into the lives of the living.

Rock-cut tomb

A rock-cut tomb is a burial chamber that is cut into an existing, naturally occurring rock formation, so a type of rock-cut architecture. They are usually cut into a cliff or sloping rock face, but may go down from fairly flat ground. It was a common form of burial for the wealthy in ancient times in several parts of the world.

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Giza East Field Cemetery in Egypt

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The Memphite Necropolis is an ancient Egyptian necropolis located in the city of Memphis, Lower Egypt. It includes the sites of Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur. Most of the pyramids of the Old Kingdom were built here, along with many mastabas and other tombs.

The Egyptian dog Abuwtiyuw, also transcribed as Abutiu, was one of the earliest documented domestic animals whose name is known. He is believed to have been a royal guard dog who lived in the Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BC), and received an elaborate ceremonial burial in the Giza Necropolis at the behest of a pharaoh whose name is unknown.

Etruscan architecture Architecture of the Etruscan civilization

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  1. "Definition of NECROPOLIS". Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  2. Gardner, Helen; Kleiner, Fred S. (2010). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. p. 148. ISBN   9780495573555.
  3. Worpole, Ken (2003). Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 79–84. ISBN   9781861891617.
  4. Spivey, Nigel; Squire, Michael (2004). Panorama of the Classical World. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p. 17. ISBN   9781606060568.
  5. Erasmo, Mario (2012). Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy. London: I.B. Tauris. pp. 76–77. ISBN   9781848855571.
  6. Erasmo, Mario (2012). Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 74. ISBN   9781848855571.