Have you ever wondered when visiting a cemetery why people leave coins on the gravestones of military members? This ancient practice experienced a resurgence in the Vietnam era and is a profound way for military members to pay their respects to their fallen brothers and sisters.


It All Began With the Greeks and the Romans

The ancient Greeks and Romans began placing coins on their dead thousands of years ago. According to Greek mythology, the coins would be used to pay Charon, the ferryman of Hades. After receiving payment, Charon would row the dead across the river Styx to the land of the dead. On the other hand, if no payment were offered to Charon, access across the river was denied, and the soul of the deceased was cursed to roam Styx’s banks for a hundred years.

The Greeks would place coins on the eyes of their dead, while the Romans in the mouths.

The Ancient Egyptians would also bury their dead with items they believed would benefit them in the afterlife. The pyramids are filled with artifacts such as boats, money, food, and other items thought necessary.

Desmond Doss MOH gravestone coins
Grave of Desmond Doss, MOH in WWII, adorned with a plethora of coins. (TriedandTrue.com)


Modern American Military Customs

The American tradition follows the ancient Roman custom of honoring the dead but with some significant changes. The coins left on military personnel or veterans’ gravestones have distinct meanings, especially when placed on the graves who gave their life while serving in our country’s military.

A coin left on a headstone or at the gravesite lets the deceased soldier’s family know that someone else has visited the grave and paid respect.