AN ANCIENT thin sheet of lead unearthed in Britain has turned out to be inscribed with curses intended to bring misfortune to more than a dozen people.
The rolled up lead tablet found in Kent, on the site of a Roman farmstead, was found in a 3rd to 4th Century building that may have been some kind of temple.
Inscribed on the lead in capital letters are the names of 14 people, which an Oxford University expert says were the intended victims of the curse.
It was discovered by the Maidstone Area Archaeological Group during excavations three years ago and has since undergone a series of detailed tests in a laboratory in Switzerland to determine its purpose.
Lead curses were very common in Ancient Greece and Rome. A virulent curse would be inscribed into a thin sheet of lead which would then be folded up, preferably with hair or nail clippings or some other personal items from the target subject.
And then the lead packet would be secreted in or near the subject's home, under the bed being the best place.
Or if that was not possible (due to distance or enmity), then the lead curse could be thrown into a well or a river or some other place as close to the underworld as possible so that the gods and demons of the underworld could carry out the magical spell.
Because of the fact that they were safely deposited at the bottom of wells or graves or pits, there are lots of surviving lead curse sheets, which experts call lamellae.
Lead is a marvelous base metal which is pliable to suit all sorts of uses -- both mundane and religious/magical. Gold, silver, copper and lead also had magico-religious significance.
Gold and lead, in particular, were so soft and malleable that they were good for casting prayer spells. Religious prayer spells would be meticulously incised into thin sheets of gold or silver or copper foil (called lamellae) which were then placed inside amulets, or else rolled up and worn as pendants around the neck.
Very often, these lamellae were placed under the pillow so that you the petitioner could receive dreams from the God (as mentioned in the OBELISK OF ANTINOUS) or else could send dreams to a loved one.
This could have been the use of the famous ANTINOUS LOVE SPELL. Since Antinous was well known for his "dream magic," it may have been calling on him to use his "dream magic" to send erotic dreams to the woman who was the object of the petitioner's desire.
In many cases, these lamellae were "demon redirection" talismans. They called upon evil demons to go elsewhere. There is a famous gold lamella found in Romania which says: "Demon hanging over me in this place, go and do your hanging at Julia Cyrilla's house. Do this for me. Now! Now!"
If you can't banish a demon, then perhaps you can persuade it to go elsewhere where it will have even more demonic fun than it does with you.
In Graeco-Egyptian Magic there is only a very fine line between charms which result in blessings and charms which result in curses.
As you can see from the little clay figure with the pins stuck in all its orifices -- it is hard to distinguish whether the subject of the spell was being blessed or being cursed with love.
Hadrian was fairly obsessed with magic and oracles and portents and potions.
And we know that, during the imperial tour of Egypt, an Egyptian magician/priest sold the emperor a spell which would cause a man to be drawn irrevocably to him forever or which would possibly kill the man -- depending on the dosage of the potion and the intonation of the words.
It was said that Hadrian wanted proof that the spell really worked, so the magician/priest used the spell to cause a man to collapse and wither and die before his very eyes.
The Ancient Priests of Antinous would have known all about prayer-spell work and would have been very busy doing oracles and preparing amulets and talismans and love spells and money spells and all sorts of things.
We must stress, however, that there is no historical record of Antinous ever being called upon to curse anybody. On the contrary, there is much evidence that he was called upon to bring love and health and prosperity to his followers.
The Obelisk inscription assures us that Antinous "sends healing visions" to his followers as they slumber.
Nonetheless, less benevolent deities were routinely invoked for curses in Ancient Rome.
If you've watched that HBO/BBC mini-series ROME, you'll remember the exciting scene in which the jilted Patrician matron Servilia of the Junii very determinedly incises a virulent curse into a sheet of lead aimed at her ex-lover Julius Caesar. We all know what happened to him on the Ides of March ...