Dying For the Gods

Author: Miranda Aldhouse Green
Publisher: Tempus Publishing
Copyright: 2001
ISBN: 0752419404


SynopsisSacrifice, like death, is one of the great taboos of modern society. The notion that human sacrifice, and even cannibalism, could be considered a most holy act is almost inconceivable. Yet the evidence for human sacrifice in northwest Europe, deriving from both archaeology and the testimony of Classical writers of the first centuries BC and AD, has to be confronted. Professor Green puts forward some reasons for ritual murder and shows how the multiple deposits of bog-bodies at sites like Tollund and Lindow illustrate the importance of place in the sacrificial rite. She also highlights the essential role of the priesthood in sacrificial murder.


The aim of this book is to look at the evidence for human sacrifice in the ancient European Iron Age and the Roman period. The areas covered, for the most part, are north and west of Europe and that includes Britain. The time period discussed is from around 600 BCE to AD 400.


In the Prologue Green makes sure to discuss her sources and the problems that each source present in interpretation. She also discusses how modern distaste for human sacrifice can shape our thoughts concerning it and how others that accept it blindly are also doing themselves a disservice considering that the material available is not clear cut.


I really found chapter one interesting. It discusses what the nature and function of human sacrifice is and what it originally meant as well as what it meant in European antiquity. Human sacrifice is introduced in this chapter.

Chapter two has the following themes: Human and Animal sacrifice and how they are different than inanimate offerings, and the discussion of how animals and humans are similar when sacrificed, sacred violence, and ritual cannibalism. The themes were interesting to read about, especially since to my mind it relates to what is a sacrifice and what is an offering.
The third and fourth chapters are a discussion of fire and blood rites.The author dedicates a chapter for each and discusses sacred fire, the wicker man, fire sacrifices, and blood sacrifices (human). 
Chapter five is all about head hunting and the ritualistic significance of that practice.
Chapters six, seven and eight discuss some of the ways of ritual killing and the way that victims are chosen and some of the reasons for ritual murder.
Chapter nine discusses the people who perform the sacrifices .
Each one of these chapters had something interesting to say, I found the archaeological evidence presented interesting. As a whole the book does a good job of fulfilling its aim of looking at evidence of human sacrifice.  There is enough evidence there to convince the people who are not convinced yet.
I think however, for me, the most important chapters were not about who was doing the sacrificing, who was sacrificed or the way it was done.  What was most important to me were the Prologue that discussed the sources and what needs to be set aside for us to even look at the issue of Human sacrifice, the first chapter which discusses the nature and function of human sacrifice and gives the different definitions, and finally the parts in all the other chapters that discussed or made the distinction between sacrifice and offerings.
For the most part a good book to add to the home library.     

6 thoughts on “Dying For the Gods

  1. Dafydd says:

    Nice review! This book has been on my wish list for some time now. I was lucky enough to see a copy in a second hand bookstore, so I’ll check the prices on the internet before getting it there.

    I was also lucky enough to get see Lindow man this summer at the BM.

  2. alainafae says:

    I had no idea that human sacrifice was even a major thing in Europe’s history; one stereotypically thinks of the Mesoamerican cultures when thinking about ritual murder. Very curious to check out this book now. Thank you for posting 🙂

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