Wednesday, October 15, 2014


A lead curse tablet, dating back around 1,700 years and likely written by a magician, has been discovered in a collapsed Roman villa in Jerusalem by a team of German archaeologists.

The villa was in use between the late 3rd Century AD and the year 363, when it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes on May 18 or 19 of that year.

The text is written in Greek and, in it a woman named Kyrilla invokes the names of six gods to cast a curse on a man named Iennys, apparently over a legal case.

"I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys," part of the curse reads in translation.

Kyrilla asks the gods to ensure that "he in no way oppose, so that he say or perform nothing adverse to Kyrilla … but rather that Iennys, whom the womb bore, be subject to her…"

To obtain her goal Kyrilla combined elements from several religions, Robert Walter Daniel, of the Institut für Altertumskunde at the University of Cologne, told LiveScience in an email. 

Of six gods invoked, four of them are Greek (Hermes, Persephone, Pluto and Hecate), one is Babylonian (Ereschigal) and one, Abrasax, is Gnostic.

A professional magician likely created the curse for Kyrilla, who may have literally used a hammer and nails to perform a magical rite that enhanced the effectiveness of the curse, Daniel said.

"The hammering and nailing is a form of gaining control over the person(s) targeted in magical texts," he wrote in the email.

Kyrilla and her curse-recipient, both probably members of the Roman middle or upper class, were likely in some legal dispute, as the curse tablet bears similarities to others found in Cyprus that are known to have been used in legal cases. Additionally the word "opposition" in this text hints at a legal matter.

The discovery was detailed recently in the German journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

One of the most dramatic reenactments of how Ancient Romans created and used lead curses is depicted in the BBC/HBO series "Rome" when Servilia of the Junii curses Julius Caesar (images on this page) ... and we all know what happened to him on the Ides of March.

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