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Typical modern hearse based on a series limousine

A hearse (also: hearse ) serves as a means of transport for coffins with the deceased. Today it can usually be found in the form of a motor vehicle , which is plain or decorated at funerals, as desired.



Even in ancient times, the transport of the corpse from one place to a necropolis was of considerable importance, especially for the higher class. In ancient Egypt , the funeral boat was used as a means of transport. On land, the barque was put on a sledge. In the grave at Elkab at the beginning of the New Kingdom (from 1550 BC to 1070 BC) there is a first depiction of a sleigh with wheels and a funeral boat. The body lay raised on a sofa on a boat. The boat was covered by a canopy and the head was pointing forward. Carrying the corpse was preferred in Indian antiquity, but there are reports of the use of a wagon pulled by two black oxen.

In Greece there is first evidence of a hearse in the Iliad epic. There are further representations on the vases from the time of the geometric style (approx. 1050 - approx. 675 BC). The corpse lies elevated here on a kline that stands with four turned legs on a substructure that widens and extends the chariot accordingly. During the time of black-figure vase painting (approx. 675–500 BC) the carriages were similar but more simply designed. The Romans didn't know hearses at burials.

The hearse of Alexander the Great

The funeral procession as described by Diodorus
(attempt at reconstruction in the 19th century)

According to the description of the Greek historian Diodorus from the 1st century BC The chariot had a golden vault (12x8  cubits , approx. 6x4 m) and was decorated with precious stones. Mythical figures with large rings adorned with colorful ribbons hung on the golden cornice. Bells hung at the farthest points to announce the car from afar. At each corner of this vault was a golden Nike wearing a tropaion . The vault was supported by a peristyle . Four pictures were attached to it with the following themes: "Alexander with a delicious scepter " with entourage, elephants in war gear with Indians and Macedonians, a cavalry division and ships prepared for sea battle. There were golden lions at the entrance to the vault. On the top of the vault was a scarlet cloth as a flag with a large golden wreath of oil.

The car body had two axles with four wheels, the rims and spokes of which were gold-plated. The tires were made of iron. The protrusions were lions' heads with hunting spears in their mouths. The car was pulled by 32 draft animals.

middle Ages

As can be seen from the English word for hearse (= hearse, from French herse = harrow ) , the origins of this companion lay in a frame similar to the agricultural implement harrow , on which the coffin could be placed during the funeral mass. These scaffolding could be draped with cloths, decorated with wreaths, and last greetings, mourning poems and obituaries pinned to the prongs, as well as candles.


Wooden cart

Initially, the successor to this wagon with harrow frames was a kind of wooden cart with a wooden frame with tapered pins at the corners. More decorations could now be placed around the coffin lying on it , and lights were often placed on the corner pillars . The structure of the hearse of important personalities then changed into a pagoda-shaped structure. Flags, candles, heraldic symbols and floral decorations were piled up, and magnificent hearses testified to the wealth of their deceased inmates during funeral parades. For burials with military ceremonies, it was common to transport the coffin on a carriage , the landing gear of a cannon .


Later horse-drawn hearses in the form of carriages were used.

Rail transport

Corresponding vehicles were kept in stock on the railways before the First World War . There were also vehicles that had both a compartment for the coffin and others for accompanying mourners. Structurally, they resembled mixed passenger and baggage cars . One such vehicle is preserved in the collection of the German Museum of Technology in Berlin . The 1: 5 model of one of these rare three-axle "Altona 23" railway hearses from DWL can be found in museum-digital: deutschland .

In Prague and Vienna , between the First and Second World Wars, corpses were partly transported by tram , for which special vehicles were constructed.


The modern funeral vehicles (BKW) are also used to transport coffins and the transport of the deceased over several hundred kilometers, as the number of international transfers to neighboring countries with funeral regulations that differ from Germany is increasing. While in Italy the external appearance of hearses sometimes has fashionable designs, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland they are mostly kept in subtle colors and classic design. The rear windows are often blind-glazed or covered with curtains. Even in German-speaking countries, black and silver are no longer the only car colors. The driver's area is usually separated from the actual coffin space by a partition. In the field of special vehicle construction, there are some companies that have specialized in funeral vehicles (e.g. Binz or PHOENIIXX-Germania funeral vehicles). Nowadays, it is relatively rare to find corpse tags attached to a normal car .

Web links

Commons : Hearse  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Hearse  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Jean-François Champollion , Monuments de l'Égypte II 140, 4; Rossellini, Mon. civ. 127, 3. In the text (II 3, 394) the latter describes the grave as una delle più anticbe tombe di Elethya.
  2. ^ W. Caland, Negotiating the Kon. Academy van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam. Afdeeling Letterkunde I No. 6 (1896) p. 20.
  3. Kurt F. Müller : The hearse of Alexander the great. Verlag EA Seemann, Leipzig 1905. (Dissertation)
  4. ^ Eduard Mueller: Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Schettler, Coethen 1865, p. 500.
  5. ^ S. Nagel: French-English etymological dictionary within Latin: For students and teachers of French and English in higher education institutions. Verlag S. Calvary & Co., Berlin 1869, p. 139.
  6. ^ Official Journal of the Royal Government of Potsdam and the City of Berlin 1847 p. 126f.
  7. On November 28, 1904, a hearse was placed in the fleet of the Royal Railway Directorate in Berlin and housed in Anhalter Bahnhof . Regarding the handling and use of the car, reference was made to an instruction 469 of September 1, 1904 (Railway Directorate Mainz (ed.): Official Gazette of the Royal Prussian and Grand Ducal Hessian Railway Directorate in Mainz of December 24, 1904, No. 66. Announcement No. 684, P. 715).
  8. [1]
  9. 100 Years Ago Prague Had a Funeral Tram. In: Expats.cz ,. Howlings sro (Ed.), October 24, 2017, accessed on November 23, 2019.
  10. ^ Street Railway Funeral Cars. A New Department in Street Railway Service. In: Street Railway Review, Vol. 1, 1891, p. 314.
  11. http://bestattungsanhaenger.npage.de