Worldly Wednesdays: A Thessaloniki Attempt at Embalming


Origin: Eastern borough in Thessaloniki, Greece
Today: Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

In 1962, archaeologists excavating a Hellenistic/Byzantine cemetery in Thessaloniki found a marble sarcophagus with a lead coffin inside. The burial, dated to the 3rd century AD, used methods so effective, that the female buried inside still had her eyebrows, some blood cells, a muscle in her hand and her braided hairstyle preserved.


The woman was between 50-60 years old and would have stood at 5’3″. She was dressed in purple silk cloth interwoven with gold thread. The very high cost of the silk, the dye and the gold threads all indicate the high social and economic status of this woman. Here you can see close ups onto the remaining gold stitches, still attached to the now very fragile purple silk fibres:

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This find is important as it is the first clear evidence that the ruling Romans practiced embalming in Greece. The mixture of oils, myrrh and resin found on the deceased point to a Roman attempt of embalming, which on this corpse prove to have had some degrees of success, although not to the levels of preservation seen in attempts by the Egyptians. No longer resembling a traditional mummy, a thin layer of soft tissues still remains onto the surface of all the bones, although it is very difficult to see without the guidance of instruments.


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