A burial society is a form of friendly society. These groups historically existed in England, and constituted for the purpose of providing by voluntary subscriptions, for insuring money to be paid on the death of a member, or for the funeral expenses of the husband, wife or child of a member, or of the widow of a deceased member.
Not-for-profit burial societies still exist today. For-profit companies also provide funeral insurance.
In ancient Greece and Rome, various associations of a fraternal nature, as well as religious groups, political clubs, and trade guilds, functioned as burial societies. Terms for these include hetaeria, collegium, and sodalitas. The by-laws of one burial society are preserved by an inscription dating to A.D. 136. Discovered at Lanuvium, the lex collegia salutaris Dianae et Antinoi ("By-laws of the Society of Diana and Antinous") details the cost of joining the society, monthly fees, regulations for the burial of members, and the schedule for the group's meetings and dinners. Another example at Rome was the College of Aesculapius and Hygia, founded by a wealthy woman in honor of her dead husband. Inscriptional evidence exists for burial societies throughout the Empire, not just in the city of Rome.
One of the ways that the Romans made sense of the earliest Christian groups was to think of them as associations of this kind, particularly burial societies, which were permitted even when political conflict or civil unrest caused authorities to ban meetings of other groups; Pliny identified Christians collectively as a hetaeria.
Edmund Roberts mentioned the European and Burial Society when he visited Cape Town, South Africa in 1833. The society was founded in 1795 by Dutch settlers. He described it as "supporting poor and unfortunate fellow-countrymen, during their illness, and in the event of their death, to cause them to be respectfully interred." He also mentioned that the society had "considerable funds," during his visit to the area.
- Maureen Carroll, Spirits of the dead: Roman funerary commemoration in Western Europe (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 45–46.
- Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale University Press, 1984, 2003), pp. 31–47 online.
- Roberts, Edmund (1837). Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 396.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press