Among most early religions based upon the worship of supernatural beings, the thought persisted that evil might be averted or some purpose achieved if something treasured were offered in exchange.
The greater the treasure or the more it was cherished, it was thought, the greater the chance that the desired end might be obtained.
When the religions became formalized, as they did in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, it was customary for the priests to indicate the treasure that would be most acceptable to the god for the particular occasion.
Usually the offering was something that might be eaten, such as fruit, cakes, or farm animals, which were thought to be pleasing to the gods. When the offering had been determined, the person offering it first washed his hands and then, with clean hands to avoid pollution, carried or led it to the temple.
Then, if the priest found the offering to be without blemish, for only such things were acceptable, it was declared sacred. Such an offering thus became, in Latin, sacrificium, literally, a thing made sacred, from sacer, sacred, and facio, make.
The term, which became sacrifice in English, although chiefly retaining a religious sense, has also become loosely used for a surrender of anything that is valued, with or without a gain that may offset the loss.