Looking at the Area 51 commitment page, I realized that some of the questions that were originally suggested there never got asked here, so I thought I'd add some of them. Something else I would like to see addressed as part of this question would be the reasons behind the sacrifices. Were they tied to religious or superstitious beliefs, such as appeasing gods, or were they done as a form of punishment or revenge?


8 Answers 8


The Maya did: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_religion , in most cases this seemed to be more extaordinary and in a way of trying to get the attention of the gods in extreme circumstances, such as famine, flood or alternately kings ascending the throne. As did the Aztec: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec#Human_sacrifice , although I have never seem much in the way of explanation other than some considered it an honor to be sacrificed.

Depending on how you view the sacrifice witch burning could be another, this was religious and a punishment but again it depends on how you define it.

  • According to sources I've read (Jared Diamond's Collapse among them), it had become pretty much an everyday thing for the Maya near the end. Then again, that probably was a time of extended famine...
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 21:59
  • An extended famine would fall under extreme circumstances for me, so I'd believe they would increase it in order to get the gods to listen.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 12:03
  • I would add that Ancient Xian and Shang China did this as well. But that's about as ancient as ancient gets for China. Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 18:28

Followers of Kali in India. It was never a mass thing, but supposedly at some point a certain Kali temple sacrificed a human every day. It still happens today, but a lot less frequently.

One non-scolarly source: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,322673,00.html

Also, Wiki ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice#History_by_region ) has a pretty extensive list, including such unusual and unexpected examples as ancient Russia (Rus apparently sacrificed slaves/prisoners of war to Perun); pre-Buddhist Tibet; and Ancient Hawaii.


Carthage might have practised mass infant sacrifice to their gods in particular Baʿal. The practices increased as Rome was defeating Carthage culminating just before the destruction of the city. Theses source do support the assertion: NY Times and The Punic Wars by A. Goldsworthy.

However, this is not clear cut: What actual proof is there for Carthaginian child sacrifice? asks for evidence. The accepted answer points to several sources disproving it.

As with many things to do with Carthage, the true might never be known.

I am leaving this answer here (despite the down votes) as I feel that it is more balance now and offerers both sides of the argument.

  • 1
    No, it was NOT their usual practice. It was a special case just during the war with Romans.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 19:52
  • 4
    and even that has been disputed as being merely Roman propaganda to paint the Carthaginians as barbaric in order to justify the complete slaughter of the entire population and razing of the city to their own population.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 11:13
  • @jwenting: If my memory serves me well, Goldsworthy mentions that children remains showing signs of having been sacrificed have been found in Carthaginian temples. I do not have the book to hand so cannot provide exact references. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 12:06
  • There is no proof of carthaginian child sacrifice. The temples with childrens bones can better be explained as a necropolis : history.stackexchange.com/questions/10520/…
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 19:15
  • @JeroenK Answer edited. Does that work better for you? Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:50

One example of human sacrifice was a practice called Sati in India. It was a Hindu tradition, mostly restricted to some northern regions of India. Under Sati, a widowed woman would sit on her husband's pyre and burn along with him. What differentiates Sati from other examples above, was that this practice was voluntary and the decision rested with the widow (in theory, if not in practice). There's some debate as to how this practice started, but it seems to be more social than religion in origin.

It was discouraged/banned by several rulers, leaders etc. It was also one of the very few Hindu customs outlawed unconditionally by the British (in 1829). Nowadays, sati is very very rarely followed.

  • 2
    I'd heard about this and thought about it in this question but the widow isn't really sacrificed though, it seems more like a sort of culturally imposed suicide. It is an interesting practice though, from a cultural perspective that is.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 21:09
  • @MichaelF:Can you explain what you meant by sacrificed? If you meant killing someone in the hopes of some gains through supernatural means, then there are some fringe cultural practices that fit the bill in India.
    – apoorv020
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 4:53
  • 1
    Exactly, but Sati is not really a ritual killing it's more of a fit with suicide. That's all I am saying. Sati was one I originally thought about in response to the question but there is no religious authority figure doing the killing in Sati so I didn't consider it as an answer. I did upvote you though for the notations around it and the link, it's not something I had thought to look for.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 12:49

One form of human sacrifice that I hadn't considered was the act of retainer sacrifice that was exercised in ancient Egypt as well as Mesopotamia. Whenever a king or ruler died, his entire household could be executed to serve him in the after-life. There even seems to be indications that this happened in ancient China as well. This form of sacrifice I suppose could have been considered an honor, but I'm not sure those who were sacrificed necessarily agreed.

In my reseacrh for a book that will be set in West Africa, I found information that some tribes there used human sacrifice to appease their gods by sacrificing prisoners that were captured in battle. There was a reference that the Kingdom of Dahomey may have been the most prominent in this, but I couldn't find anything substantial to confirm that.


Romans: I know they're not the first ones to come to mind, but their gladitorial games started as a tribute to the spirit of the deceased (i could be wording this very bad). also they twice buried alive a couple of greeks and celts, once during the second punic war, after cannae, on an interpretation of the sibillyne books.


With spaced regularity, here's another: Vikings sacrificed every 9 years people in honor of Odin. Saxo Grammaticus in his books about the history of Denmark reported it. Check this question for a more complete set of answers.

While for the Aztecs or Mayans, talking only about the Mesoamerican ball game, I think there are discrepancies on how the sacrifices where made. If I remember correctly, folklore tells that Mayans sacrifice the winners of a "ball match" (because there was some kind of reaching the right to be along side to the gods), while the Aztecs sacrifice the losers of such matches.

But in general, all Mesoamerican cultures held human sacrifices in religious grounds (Olmecs, Toltecs, etc.)


Adding up an example, if you read the old testament, you see numerous examples, most famously when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, of course we know it didn't happen. And since Abraham didn't doubt this is God's will, I think this was in a way accepted, even if it wasn't the daily practice among Jewish people that time.

consider the followings:
1 Kings 13:1-2
Wisdom 14:21-23
Judges 11:29-40

I am pretty convinced in ancient Jewish culture this thing was more common, since the Bible don't register all the sacrifices. These sacrifices weren't as regular as in Mayan or Aztec culture, but existed.

  • "ancient jewish culture" - do you mean pre-Abraham? Because technically speaking, he is the first original Jew.
    – DVK
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 16:18
  • 3
    It's debatable whether Abraham actually expected to actually have to kill his son. It's also debatable whether the 'sacrifice' mentioned in the Judges resulted in Jephath's daughter's death. The book of Wisdom doesn't appear to be in the 'standard' biblical canon, and the passage isn't necessarily referring to Jewish culture either. I have a feeling that the way 'sacrifice' is used in Kings is less an appeasement for God, and more a judgement on those prophets ('for perverting right worship', basically). Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 21:17
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    Sorry, -1. First, your inference is just pure guess. Second, the whole point of the sacrifice of Isaac was that it was a singular event, not something ordinary. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 6:01
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg: Leviticus 27:28-29, Judges 11:29-40, 1 Kings 13:1-2, Ezekiel 21:33-37, Deuteronomy 13:13-19. Not so singular, it seems.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:25
  • 2
    @DevSolar Point taken, I reversed my downvote. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:20

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