Disposal Of Human Corpses
rating: 0+x

One might recall, for example, an anecdote of Darius. When he was king of Persia, he summoned the Greeks who happened to be present at his court, and asked them what they would take to eat the dead bodies of their fathers. They replied that they would not do it for any money in the world. Later, in the presence of the Greeks, and through an interpreter, so that they could understand what was said, he asked some Indians of the tribe called Callatiae, who do in fact eat their parents' dead bodies, what they would take to burn them. They uttered a cry of horror and forbade him to mention such a dreadful thing. One can see by this what custom can do.
Herodotus The Histories

Basic Information

Disposal of human corpses is the process and practice of interring, or getting rid of, a human corpse, whether for religious, sanitary, or secrecy purposes.

One thing is certain - wherever you are there will be an official "right way" of doing it and a variety of ways that are not only "wrong" but punishable. How punishable will depend on era and context. Hilarity can often ensue when the "right way" of disposal for those with a perfectly legitimate need to dispose of a corpse (that of a deceased relative for example) conflicts with the official "right way" in their current location. People will often get very upset about the improper treatment of the dead … and in fantasy campaigns there may be more serious consequences to getting it wrong.

The "right way" is often highly ceremonial and a major community occasion (see Funerary Practices for a few ideas) … doing things the wrong way might involve the community as well, if only to the extent of torches and pitchforks.

Assorted techniques:


1. Lengthy forum post on this topic - Includes somewhat gory details on how to get rid of a corpse and cover your trail.

Game and Story Use

  • This problem is likely to appear in many games. I mean, who hasn't had an adventure when the player characters felt perfectly justified in killing someone else, but later realized that the authorities might not agree with their reasons?
  • Alternatively the PCs must recover (and/or ship) a corpse for proper disposal and/or see to the funerary rights - particularly if it's one of the party that died. This may cause trouble if the local authorities object, for example, to having dead bodies shipped across borders or demand some funerary custom that is antithetical to theirs.
  • There may also be issues when PCs hope to resurrect a dead colleague, only to find local funerary law getting in the way … Clark Ashton-Smith's The Charnel God may give something of a flavour of the hilarity that may ensue (and the - initial - deceased person in that was only cataleptic).
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