There’s a lot most of us don’t know about the ancient customs and traditions from cultures around the world who have since mostly died out. Some of the practices upheld by members of these ancient societies have been carried over throughout the generations, but some other, more primitive ones, have (thankfully) died out. Here are some of the most unbelievable, downright gruesome customs from ancient civilizations across the globe.
1. India – The ‘Sati’ Ritual of Voluntary Widow Suicide
Sati, or ritualistic suicide of a recently widowed woman, was a way for a woman to show her undying love and respect for her deceased husband by joining him in death. Typically, she would do this by sitting on top of his funeral pyre as his body was burned to ash. As mortifying as this might sound, it’s even worse that many women were forced to die in this manner, because it was seen in India as the way to act as a “righteous woman”. Fortunately, the practice lost traction and was officially deemed illegal by the mid 1980’s, however there have been a few accounts of this terrible tradition still being upheld in the smaller, more remote villages across the country.
2. Japan – Seppuku, The Honorable Warrior Suicide
In ancient Japan, when a samurai warrior was unable to succeed in a war-related task, his only option was to commit suicide to regain and retain his honor. Seppuku, or disembowelment, was a specific suicide ritual where the dishonored samurai, dressed in a white kimono, would kneel on top of a pillow. His second in command (kaishakunin) would stand behind him to his left, ready to cut his head clean off to prevent him from suffering for too long after slicing himself open. He would have to impale himself in the stomach with his own swords, and slice across in order to spill out his insides. The last known instance of Seppuku was in 1970 when a writer committed suicide in this manner when he was unable to take command of a military post during a Japanise protest of military policies.
3. China – Eunuchs in Positions of Power
In ancient China, genital castration was one of 5 main punishments used on citizens who had committed crimes against the empire. However, starting during the Han Dynasty, castration was also a fast way to gain a position of power in the Imperial Court. Since Eunuchs were unable to have children, they were not considered a threat to the ruling dynasty. Therefore, rulers felt comfortable allowing their hundreds of concubines to roam around the city freely, without fear of them becoming impregnated by anyone else but themselves. Eunuchs often handled all day to day tasks, and had very strong input power on the decisions of the ruling parties.
4. Mexico – Cranial Deformation
The ancient Maayans had a lot of strange customs and rituals they would adhere to. One of the most physically apparent ones was called cranial deformation. When a baby was born, their skulls would be soft and malleable, so it could be shaped more easily. The baby would be stretched out onto a bed of reeds, and heavy boards would be fastened around its head for days or weeks at a time, causing the skull to change shape. This would cause a lot of pain, and newborns would often die from this barbaric process or come out with severe birth defects. Interestingly, the purpose of this cranial stretching was for the people to resemble corn. Corn was thought of as the substance of life, making up the matter that formed human beings themselves.
5. Roman Empire – Using Urine as Mouthwash
There was no Listerine back in the days of the Roman Empire, but they still had a way to keep their mouths, well, “fresh”. Romans would use both human and animal urine (the richer ones would have it shipped over from Portugal, those with less means would just use their own) to clean their mouths and whiten their teeth. As gross as it sounds, urine contains a nice amount of ammonia, which is used as a cleaning product even today, and effectively cleans stains and cuts grease. They also used urine to wash their clothes, fertilize their crops, and even cure diseases.
6. Egypt – Kings Would Be Buried Along With Their Servants (Who Were Still Alive)
In ancient Egypt, kings and queens and other people with royal blood would have lavish burial rituals. Their final resting places would be a large tomb, with lots of space, which would be able to hold all of the things they would need to take with them to their next life. These tombs would often hold things like food, their most prized possessions, gold and currency, their pets, and even their favorite servants would go into the next life with them. The morbid part of it all is that the servants, unless they happened to die at the same time, would enter the tomb alive, and would die slowly of starvation as the tomb was sealed behind them.
7. Greece – Crocodile Dung For Everything
Although the ancient Greeks were not the only civilization to utilize crocodile dung, they were basically in love with the stuff and used it across many aspects of their lives. It was used as a birth control method by sticking a wad of it in the entrance of a woman’s parts, a makeup and skin whitening product, scar and wound treatment, and more. Crocodiles wandering into your homes all the time was a pretty common issue back in ancient Greece, but they really made the best of the situation by utilizing what the croc left behind.