Street of Tombs
Funerals and Monuments
Sometimes, Delphi had to go to the graveyard in the Kerameikos to tend to a grave. It was one of the few jobs that fell to the girls in Athens. She didn’t really want to do it today, so she thought she may as well bring Zeno with her for a walk. It’s quite difficult to take a tortoise for a walk.
When she arrived, she put him down by the side of the road. He seemed to get stuck in the long grass for a bit, before he discovered some weeds and happily started devouring them.
Delphi watched him for a while, as she tended to the graveside, taking away the dying flowers, sweeping it clear of leaves and insects, and occasionally glancing up at the monuments around her. Zeno seemed at home here. Not that he looked at the monuments. Not even the one of the giant bull which towered over the road – a monument to Dionysus. No, he kept his head down and concentrated on chewing. Delphi kept her head down too.
“Is that your tortoise?” said a man, after a while, who was passing.
“No,” said Delphi. “He just lives with us. I think he’s his tortoise.”
The man laughed and bent down to pick him up. Zeno squirmed his legs awkwardly until the man put him down again.
“He doesn’t like that, you know,” she commented.
The man shrugged. “Who knows what a tortoise likes?” He walked away.
“I know what this tortoise likes,” Delphi whispered back to him. “He likes to be left alone.”
Kerameikos Street of Tombs: Fact box
The Street of Tombs is part of the Sacred Way – an old and important street in Athens. Many tombs and graves were built alongside the road for many kilometres towards the town of Eleusis, an important site in the Greek religion where Demeter was worshipped.
The Greeks thought it was very important to honour the dead carefully. Funerals involved a lot of ritual and procession, and women were expected to look after the graves of relatives.
It’s easy to forget how much death there was in ancient Athens. Without all our modern healthcare, many children died before they became adults. Life expectancy was better in Athens compared to most places in the ancient world – healthy and rich Athenian citizens could live into their 70s or older, but the average for other people like slaves could be as low as 35 years!
There were many reasons for this. Athens was involved in many wars in the 4th and 5th centuries BC, and there were devastating plagues such as the one in 430 BC. Sadly, many babies and children died too.
Pets were common in Ancient Athens, the most common being dogs, birds, goats and tortoises. However, the Greeks were very suspicious of cats – unlike the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped them as gods!