Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia and necrolagnia, is a paraphilia characterized by a sexual attraction to corpses. The word is artificially derived from Ancient Greek: νεκρός (nekros; "corpse," or "dead") and φιλία (philia; "love"). The term appears to have originated from Krafft-Ebing's 1886 work Psychopathia Sexualis.
Necrophilia was practiced in some ancient cultures as a spiritual means of communicating with the dead, while others employed it as an attempt to revive the recently departed. The evidence of necrophilia practices can be found in the artifacts of the Moche civilization of South America, where pottery depicting skeletal figures engaged in coitus with living humans are among the ruins. Even in ancient Egypt, there is record of the treatment of the bodies of young women that were set out to rot for a few days before being delivered to embalmers. This practice was born from the need to discourage the men performing the funerary customs from having sexual interest in their charges. Herodotus writes in The Histories that, to discourage intercourse with a corpse, Ancient Egyptians left deceased beautiful women to decay for "three or four days" before giving them to the embalmers.
In some societies the practice was enacted owing to a belief that the soul of an unmarried woman would not find peace; among the Kachin of Myanmar and the Nambudri of India, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse. Similar practices obtained in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding.
Antiquity offers numerous examples of what may readily be described as cults of thanatophilia; perhaps the most famous of them being that of Alexander the Great's, which was physically centered around his breastplate, kept in a mausolean reliquary in the eponymous Egyptian city for over five hundred years. More remarkable still are accounts stating that Alexander's body was placed in a sarcophagus of solid gold and perfectly preserved in a (sterilizing) bath of honey through the remaining centuries of antiquity.