Ten Ancient Civilizations That Practiced Child Sacrifice

Sacrificial rituals have always been a part of religious affairs. Rites of sacrifice in one form or another existed among all groups of people thousands of years ago. But some civilizations dragged it to a frightening edge by arranging human sacrifice which includes the killing of small children. In this article, we have mentioned several civilizations that practiced child sacrifice for several purposes.


Babylon was a large megalithic settlement and one of the most powerful forces in the ancient world. They sacrificed people to their main deity – Marduk, as well as other Gods such as Anu, the deity of the city of Uruk. This practice especially developed in the last years of the Babylonian Empire.  Fire festivals were held annually, where children were sacrificed as gifts to God Anu. 


The Aztec civilization is best known for the performance of human sacrifice for religious reasons. Archaeologists constantly find more and more evidence that the Aztecs massively and cruelly sacrificed people to the gods.

In October 2017, archaeologists discovered a rare find in Tenochtitlan – a cylindrical pit dug and lined with volcanic rocks many centuries ago specifically to offer sacrifices to the Aztec gods. Tenochtitlan was an ancient Aztec city that is now located in the heart of Mexico City. 

The find was made at the foot of the Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple in Tenochtitlan. The remains of a murdered child were found in the pit. Known in archeology as “Offering 176,” this child is believed to have been sacrificed sometime around 1400 AD. This was the heyday of the Aztec religiosity, when many children were sacrificed to their gods. Most likely, 176 offerings was killed to appease Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, and to benefit the people of the city.


Canaan is an all-encompassing term for the land that was in what is now known as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. The Bible is replete with references to an ancient Canaanite God named Molech (aka Moloch), for whom human sacrifices were the norm and were numerous.

Some called Molech the “god of child sacrifices” because they were mainly “given” to him for small children. And their death was painful because it was believed that Molech liked it when the victims were thrown into the fire.  In the biblical Book of Leviticus, there is a special instruction prohibiting such a practice: “Do not give from your offspring as a sacrifice to Moloch, nor defile the name of your God; I am the Lord.”


Indeed, prior to Leviticus’ edict, the Israelites frequently performed human sacrifices, including killing children to appease the god Baal. The Book of Kings claims that the Israelites worshiped false gods and participated in the ritual murder of human children. And the Bible describes how “the children of ancient Israel” were used for sacrifices like animals, including sacrificing them to Jehovah.  Some scholars categorically reject these claims, although similar descriptions are present in works that have survived from ancient times. 


The Olmec civilization was one of the oldest large communities in prehistoric Mesoamerica. Their culture and sphere of influence spanned much of southern North America, including the territory that spans the present-day countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. 

They are believed to be the first known Mesoamerican culture to perform human sacrifice, much older than other cultures in early America. From the Olmecs, little has come down to us, since about 2400 years ago, this people mysteriously disappeared, leaving us only a small part of the artifacts.

However, we have evidence that the Olmecs killed children. Thousands and thousands of old human bones have been found in various places associated with the Olmecs, including the Midnight Terror Cave in Belize and the sacred shrine of El Manati. This culture sacrificed thousands of children to its Gods.


The heyday of the Mayan civilization fell on 250-900 AD and they were even more successful than the Olmecs in bringing human sacrifices to their gods. Archaeologists excavating the Guatemalan city of Seibal, which dates back to Mayan times, once discovered something curious – obsidian stones buried in places where children were sacrificed to the gods. Obsidian is a type of dark natural glass, usually coal-black in color, that forms when lava cools rapidly. The Maya considered obsidian a divine stone, and when they sacrificed small children to the gods, they then buried their bodies along with pieces of obsidian. 


Despite the fact that we know much less about the Toltecs than about the Mayans or the Aztecs, this people did in fact put child sacrifices on the stream. Some historians even point out that the sacrifice of living children was apparently a staple of their culture. A mass grave was discovered during construction near Tula, Mexico, containing the remains of at least 24 children. Everything indicated that these children were killed to appease the gods. The bodies of children in this place were buried between 950 and 1150 AD.  Compared to our much less violent world today, this was definitely an unusual culture and perhaps it gives us a glimpse into the world of the past and see the wild inclinations of the human race.


In terms of sacrifice, the Incas stood out from most other cultures in Mesoamerica, because they NEVER killed adults, only children. Moreover, this practice was so stable that for some time it continued after European settlers arrived on their lands.  As a rule, it all started with choosing the strongest and healthiest child in the region so that the gods could like him. And the parents of this child should have been happy that their child was chosen. Then the child was fed a special diet for some time and was often given coca or alcohol to drink. This was probably done so that he was in the calmest, semi-conscious state. 

On the right day, the children were literally drunk so that they fell asleep, and then they carried their bodies high into the mountains, where the child soon died from the cold, without regaining consciousness. Many mummies of Inca children have survived to this day, found in excellent preservation at high altitudes in caves. Some children were unlucky enough to die alone, for example the body of a 7-year-old El Niño boy was found tied up with injured ribs. He apparently died of severe stress, as vomiting and blood were found on his clothes.


It is not known what culture built this largest city in pre-Columbian America, but many Indian peoples later lived in it.

In Teotihuacan, sacrifices were performed in the Pyramid of the Moon. Here they killed both adults and children, tearing out their hearts alive. The remains of many murdered children were found here, but it is impossible to say which culture did this, since these people did not even leave behind them hieroglyphs. 

At some point, the city’s population mysteriously disappeared, as happened with many civilizations of pre-Columbian America and the city itself was abandoned. When the Aztecs came here centuries later, they gave this place the name Teotihuacan – the City of the Gods.


When the Roman Empire expanded, it forbade the practice of human sacrifice in the colonies, the Romans were very disgusted with this, as can be understood from their sources that have come down to us. The Romans especially did not like the sacrifices of the Celts, who killed both adults and children. The Celts were a fierce but tight-knit group of tribes that from time to time joined forces to repel the Roman invasion.

After successful battles, the Celts decapitated their enemies and embalmed the severed heads to preserve them as trophies. Numerous Roman authors, including Julius Caesar, describe in detail the practice of child sacrifice by the Celts and their aversion to it. Recent excavations of Celtic settlements in England have uncovered the remains of sacrificed children, as well as structures where druids performed blood drinking rituals and even cannibalism, judging by the remains of split bones.

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