Ancient crypts and tombs are the bread-and-butter of Elder Scrolls dungeons. While some of them have clear in-game reasons for being stuffed full of treasure, more of them have no clear reason. Sure, it seems to be part of the general culture in many places to bury people with treasure, especially their personal belongings, but the actual purpose of this practice seems to be unclear beyond "tradition". In the real world, the culture most notorious for burying treasure in tombs is the ancient Egyptians. They believed that the possessions buried with the dead could be used by them in the afterlife. This kind of justification does not seem to be present in most Tamrielic cultures.
Nords, for example, are pretty clear about believing that the important thing is to live an honorable life and die with valor in order to get into Sovngarde. Wealth is irrelevant. One quote of note on the subject is what Golldir says when the LDB takes items from his family tomb when they are working together to kill a necromancer who is using the corpses of the tomb to make undead: "Hey! Those belong to my family! Sigh… fine, take whatever you want, so long as you help me get rid of Vals." It seems to imply that Nords generally believe the treasure belongs to the ancestors interred in tombs, but the ancestors don't really need it. Nords tend to be more concerned if the bodies of the ancestors themselves are disturbed, supported by the words of Thongvor Silver-Blood that he says when he is denied access to the Markarth Hall of the Dead: "Typical Imperial lies. First you take away Talos, now you're keeping us from seeing our honored dead? You and the Jarl will answer for any desecration of my ancestors' bodies."
I am less well-versed in Dunmer burial practices, but it seems like they generally just want their tombs to be safe to visit and use, without undead or unwanted daedra prowling the halls. If they are concerned about the chances of a questing adventurer grabbing items of value while they kill scamps, they don't seem to be very vocal about it.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that including treasure creates a huge burden on the tomb-makers. Not only do they have to supply the treasure itself, but they also have to design the tomb with traps and guardains to prevent tomb looters from getting to that treasure. So, why does this practice of burying the dead with treasure persist?
Here's my theory, though it may be a bit outlandish: What if the gods (Aedra and Daedra alike) passively promoted this practice? Or, alternatively, some other cosmic force, such as the Elder Scrolls? Aedra and Daedra seem to have the most influence when they are represented by a champion of some kind, often predicted by prophecy. It seems common for prospective heroes, those who seek to fulfill prophecy, to be powerful beings, which makes sense because one must have power to change the world. If a stagnant society produced only weak, unremarkable people, there is no hero, and therefore there is no Event and prophecies remain unfulfilled. So how could such a state be prevented?
Suppose the most powerful failed heroes are buried with their power (both in the form of wealth and the form of rare items). New people with the potential to be heroes could, if they prove worthy, take this power for themselves and use it to gain a better chance at becoming the successful Hero. Instead of power merely being passed on to one's direct descendants, who may end up squandering, misusing, or losing that power, it is preserved with those who obtained it until the right person comes along.
The reasoning is a little weak, but I think it could answer some otherwise confusing questions. It does seem like the Heroes of the games are in some way meant to obtain the wealth and items that they do, like the items have been preserved for that purpose. But maybe that's just me. If you have any thoughts on this theory, questions, concerns, or even disagreements, please reply to this post.
tl;dr: The reason it has become the cultural norm for treasure to be buried in tombs is that some entity or force encourages this practice to ensure that mortals with the potential to fulfill prophecy have a source of power to improve their chances.
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More about The Elder ScrollsPost: "Theory: Burial practices intended to fulfill prophecy" specifically for the game The Elder Scrolls. Other useful information about this game:
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