Offering of the life of a human being to a god. In some ancient cultures, the killing of a human being, or the substitution of an animal for a person, was an attempt to commune with the god and to participate in the divine life. It also sometimes served as an attempt to placate the god and expiate the sins of the people. It was especially common among agricultural people (e.g., in the ancient Near East), who sought to guarantee the fertility of the soil. The Aztecs sacrificed thousands of victims (often slaves or prisoners of war) annually to the sun, and the Incas made human sacrifices on the accession of a ruler. In ancient Egypt and elsewhere in Africa, human sacrifice was connected with ancestor worship, and slaves and servants were killed or buried alive along with dead kings in order to provide service in the afterlife. A similar tradition existed in China. The Celts and Germanic peoples are among the European peoples who practiced human sacrifice.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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