Special Report

Civilizations That Have Sacrificed Humans

Iconography depicting the graphic murder of humans in front of deities has been uncovered from numerous ancient (and sometimes not so ancient) cultures across the globe. Sacrificial rites were often performed by now vanished cultures to appease or honor the gods during harvest celebrations, plagues, famines, or battles. (Here are 25 ancient civilizations destroyed by natural disasters.)

Another common deadly ritual (called retainer sacrifice) involved killing the slaves or servants of deceased nobles so that they could continue to serve him in the afterlife.  

Reviewing historical accounts from sources including Britannica and Live Science as well as various archaeological publications, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of civilizations that are believed or known to have sacrificed humans. (Our own civilization is hardly less deadly. Here are 25 cities where murders are on the rise.)

Not surprisingly, research has shown that the victims were frequently criminals, prisoners of war, or the poor. A 2016 study found that human sacrifice was much more common in stratified societies than egalitarian ones, and may have been utilized as a means of social control by the upper classes. Indeed, bone analysis from numerous sacrificial victims shows malnutrition or a substandard diet compared to non-sacrificed bodies in the same area.  

Outliers exist, of course, including well-fed Inca children left to die on mountaintops and enemy rulers sacrificed by the Maya after their defeat.  

It should be noted that in some cases, evidence of human sacrifice is anecdotal or inconclusive, and that sometimes the practice was inherent in the beliefs and practices of an entire culture, while in other cases it may have been particular to a smaller subculture.

Click here to see civilizations that have sacrificed humans