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A curse tablet (Latin: tabella defixionis, defixio Greek: κατάδεσμος , romanized: katadesmos) is a small tablet with a curse written on it from the Greco-Roman world. The tablets were used to ask the gods, place spirits, or the deceased to perform an action on a person or object, or otherwise compel the subject of the curse.
Most of us have at least toyed with the idea of a voodoo doll, but we wouldn’t really curse someone… would we? The people of the ancient world weren’t so shy, and have left us a lot of their ill-wishing to study. The things that made them angry enough to curse someone aren’t so different from the things that annoy us now: lawsuits, theft, property damage, infidelity, stealing someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend, and so on.
These spells were known as katadesmoi in Greek or defixiones in Latin the Greek implies binding, while the Latin connotes “nailed down”. The most common format was an inscribed lead tablet which was rolled up and hidden somewhere to do its magical work. (Lead was cheap, easy to write on, and was the colour of the dead, no doubt enhancing its magical power.)
Faraone’s essay in Magika Hiera, a study of ancient Greek magic, lists four types of spells:
- direct binding formulas: “I bind NN”
- prayer formula: “May the gods (named or not) bind NN”
- wish formula: “May NN be unsuccessful!”
- simila similibus formula: “Like this corpse is lifeless, may NN be lifeless”
We have about 1600 such spells from the ancient world. At least six hundred such spells were found in Greece, with many more from Rome and the various outposts of the Empire. (Faraone: 3) Britain in particular seems to have plenty of curse tablets: at least 250 of the Latin tablets come from there.
Pliny observed that “there is no one who does not fear to be cursed by spell tablets.” (Natural History 28.4.19). There are stories of how Thucydides was stopped mid-flow in court by a spell, and Cicero blamed magic when forgot the details of a case, so we know that they were considered a real menace. (And a believable excuse.)
Curse tablet, imperfectly preserved. Wikimedia.
Cursing as a profession
Cursing people was so common it was an industry – part of a professional magician’s trade along with healing spells and love-charms. Some ancient Greek papyri, known as grimoires, give formulae for preparing a spell. There are similar documents in Syrian and Arabic such as the Picatrix. (Gager:72)
We know that professional magicians existed, since various ancient texts refer to them, from plays and novels all the way to philosophy:
…begging priests and soothsayers go to rich men’s doors and make them believe.. that if a man wishes to harm an enemy, at slight cost he will be enabled to injure just and unjust alike, since they are masters of spells and enchantments that constrain the gods to serve their end.
(Plato, Republic 364 c)
The professional touch might explain why so many of these curse tablets read as if copied from each other: a lot of them came from “recipe books” that gave formulae for cursing rivals. Despite this, you do get the occasional do-it-yourselfer whose tablet takes an unusual format, and the formats themselves change over time. Some of the later Roman and Greek ones invoke Jesus and Mary, for example. (Gager: 71)
Fifteen defixiones found in a well seem to have been written by the same person, using the same formula, and another set of eight from a columbarium on the Appian Way have the same formulae and drawings. A scribe presumably did the 20 katadesmoi found in wells around Athens, all in the same writing, with the same text. (Faraone 23, n. 15)
Folded curse tablet from Bath. By Mike Peel. (Wikimedia)
How do you curse someone?
Most curses were inscribed on a lead tablet. After you’d finished writing out your curse, you rolled it up into a scroll, possibly crushing it in your hand, driving a nail through it or folding it up. Then you put it somewhere magically significant.
If you were cursing a chariot team, you might place it in the stadium. Other places included wells (the well in the sanctuary of Anna Perenna in Rome was full of them, as was Sulis Minerva‘s spring in Bath), cemeteries, sanctuaries and temples, and the victim’s home.
Sometimes people added an actual figure – a real “voodoo doll” – to the tablet, rolling the scroll around it. (Many more spells than we know probably used figures, since many of them have probably decayed over time, leaving the lead tablet behind.) You could also add some of the victim’s hair, especially for love-spells.
A little lead “gingerbread man” found at Carystus on the island of Euboea, seems harmless until you read the two inscriptions:
I register Isais, the daughter of A(u)toclea, before Hermes the Restrainer. Restrain her by your side!
I bind Isais before Hermes the Restrainer, the hands, the feet of Isais, the entire body.
Another found in Rome was a folded tablet inscribed with a smiling figure, its torso bound in cords, the head and shoulders pieced by nails, and surrounded by a snake poised to strike. The curser was taking no chances. (Adams: 3)
To make it more magical, you could add Greek letters, foreign names of deities or spirits (usually Persian, Egyptian or Hebrew – Adonai and IAO were used), reversed or scrambled names, and made-up words known as voces magicae, words imbued with magical power. (The “barbarous names of evocation” worked on this principle.)
While early curses were fairly simple (“I bind NN”) they became more elaborate over time, naming various demons and deities. The chthonic deities like Pluto and Prosperine were favourites, but the British tablets in particular tend to be addressed to “normal” deities like Jupiter, Neptune, Diana, Mercury and Nemesis, as well as Sulis Minerva and Nodens. (The one to Nemesis asks for a theft to be avenged, so it makes sense.)
A couple of spells from Gaul address themselves to the “underworld gods”, the andedion, presumably the local equivalents of Pluto and Prosperine.
Curse tablet from Eyguieres, by Pankratos. (Wikimedia)
Two categories of cursing/binding magic are a bit special, love magic and the prayers against thieves and other criminals. The love magic spells are about binding than cursing, but by today’s standards they fall well short of consent, as they are intended to make someone fall in love or sleep with you whether they want to or not.
Erotic spells often used wax images of the intended victim, and sometimes the client as well. (Gager: 74)* An early Greek love spell reads:
[I bind?] Aristocydes and the women who will be seen about with him. Let him not marry another woman or matron.
There are many more like this, including one that asks that Zoilos be powerless to come to Anatheira, just as the corpse the spell is buried with is powerless. (Faraone: 13)
The love spells show a gender divide, according to scholars: women’s spells tend to use the word philia, and try to increase affection between women and men, while men’s spells tend to use the word eros, and try to force the woman out of her home and into her lover’s arms. (Gager: 79-80) This quote from a much longer spell gives you the idea:
..Drag her by the hair and heart until she no longer stands aloof from me, Sarapammon, to whom Area gave birth, and I hold Ptolemais myself, to whom Aias gave birth, the daughter of Origenes, obedient for all the time of my life, filled with love for me, desiring me, speaking to me all the things she has on her mind.
Complaint about theft of Vilbia – probably a woman. This curse includes a list of names of possible culprits. Perhaps Vilbia was a slave. (Wkimdedia)
Pleas for Justice
The other special category of cursing tablets should be looked at less as cursing and more as “prayers for justice”, according to H.S. Versnel. He argued that given the rudimentary state of law enforcement in ancient times, asking the gods to right a wrong made a good deal of sense.
A few British and Spanish ones were even intended for display: they had little holes drilled in the top so they could be attached to a wall. One Spanish tablet, from Emerita, was of marble rather than lead, making it an offering as much as a curse. (Tomlin: 249) It reads:
Goddess Ataecina of Turibriga, and Prosperina, I ask you by all your majesty, I beg you to avenge the theft that has been done to me, whoever has changed, stolen or diminished the things which are written below. 6 tunics, 2 linen cloaks, a shift (?) I do not know..
The tablet breaks off there, but we get the gist. Another, this time in folded lead tablet form, comes from Uley in Britain, and is more formal in style, like a petition to a local official:
A memorandum to the god Mercury from Saturnina, a woman, concerning the linen cloth which she has lost. (She asks) that he who has stolen it should not have rest before, unless, when he brings the aforesaid property to the aforesaid temple, whether woman or man, slave or free.
The ones with the holes may have been meant to shame the criminal into returning the goods, but others were hidden where only the deity would know about them, like the curse tablets deposited in Sulis Minerva’s spring. They had to substitute for the satisfaction of getting your goods back, and seeing the thief punished.
Getting Even in Roman Britain: The Curse Tablets from Bath (Aquae Sulis)
What’s in a curse? A lot more than just the wave of a wand from an evil fairy godmother. For many residents of ancient Britain, it involved invoking a god to influence a particular individual according to their wishes they often expressed these desires on tiny leaden documents in a format common throughout the Greco-Roman world: the curse tablet. Representing a concept likely imported as a result of foreign invasion, trade, and settlement, the 130 curse tablets in Bath, England, demonstrate a fascinating process of cultural hybridization.
What was so special about Bath, or “Aquae Sulis” in Latin? It was a place for individuals to “take the waters,” to soak in the healing properties of its mineral-rich springs. But Bath was a cult site for the worship of the goddess Sulis Minerva, a mistress of healing and justice. Herself likely a product of interpretatio romana, which conflated pre-existing divinities with their Roman equivalents, Sulis Minerva ruled over the powerful waters at Bath. But how did supplicants reach her?
Prayer was one way to get in touch with the goddess, but, if a worshipper had a distinct problem, one might request aid from Sulis Minerva on a curse tablet. Since most were probably illiterate and couldn’t write in miniscule script, he or she would visit a scribe on a piece of lead or pewter, the scribe would write a request for Sulis Minerva or another god on to avenge the wrong done to their client, to punish the one who perpetrated the crime, and, if something was stolen, for the goods to be returned to their rightful owner.
Opisthographic defixio tabella with magic signs on one side and a Latin / Greek inscription of doubtful meaning on the other side. Origin unknown. By Marie-Lan Nguyen – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1727264
Most of the curse tablets found in Bath and Uley, a religious center located only 27 miles from Bath, involve stolen items. Supplicants ask different deities to both send back their goods (or, in one case, possibly a slave girl) and to punish the culprits. In return for the god’s help, the devotees would promise the divine one a gift, perhaps even the stolen item if it was returned to them. Sulis Minerva was often the goddess of choice because she was the goddess who oversaw the places—her baths and sanctuary— where their goods were taken. By throwing the curse tablets down into the murky depths of Sulis Minerva’s sacred springs, the supplicants attempted to send them directly to her. It’s also possible that the tablets were displayed publicly, their curses recited to enact the spells therein, then cast into the sacred spring. Or they were set up, then, when the sanctuary got too crowded, brushed off into the waters.
“curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free …”
The relationship between man and god was a contract in exchange for the divine powers delivering justice, the devotee would provide the god with an offering or sacrifice. In order to help the invoked god track down the guilty party without any restrictions, the petitioner tried to mention every possible type of individual the villain could be. For example, one Docilianus asked “the most holy goddess Sulis” to “curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free …” While many other types of magic appeared in defixiones from elsewhere in the empire, those found in Britain almost exclusively dealt with theft. Most of the tablets found at Bath involve theft, but few of the many found outside Britain discuss it. Thus, it appears that the curse tablets from Bath demonstrate a unique type of cultural hybridization, combining concerns of those who resided in Roman Britain with a Greco-Roman form of magical supplication and its corresponding language.
But why were the Brits so concerned with theft? In a remote province without a heavy police presence, individuals visiting the baths or temples would have to have been had money in order to afford guards or slaves to protect their belongings while they soaked or prayed. This appears to have been the problem at Bath, though bathhouse thieves were an all-too-common phenomenon across the Roman Empire.
“Docimedis has lost two gloves. (He asks) that (the person) who stole them lose his mind and his eyes in the temple where (she) appoints.”
The items reported stolen in the tablets were those that would have been stowed away when one went to bathe: cloaks, coins, et cetera. For example, one Docimedis pleads to Sulis Minerva: “Docimedis has lost two gloves. (He asks) that (the person) who stole them lose his mind and his eyes in the temple where (she) appoints.” Solinus goes even further in his request: “Solinus to the goddess Sulis Minerva. I give to your divinity and majesty my bathing tunic and cloak. Do not allow sleep or health to him who has done me wrong, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, unless he reveals himself and brings these goods to your temple.”
As a result, scholars have concluded that many of the supplicants may have been poor or of a relatively low social status. Since they couldn’t afford guards, they would find their possessions stolen upon returning to their cubbies in the baths since there was probably little local law enforcement available to Britons, they would appeal to a higher power: a god. But, since most provinces were probably under-policed, why did the Brits seem obsessed with burglary? Perhaps that was just a coincidence of the archaeological record after all, curse tablets would have been a relatively cheap and accessible means of requesting vengeance throughout the Roman world.
The term defixiones refers to a type of binding magic, a spell used to restrain a competitor. In contrast, the Bath curse tablets largely fall under the category of “prayer for justice,” or “pleas addressed to a god or gods to punish a (mostly unknown) person who has wronged the author (by theft, slander, false accusations or magical action), often with the additional request to redress the harm suffered by the author,” as defined by Henk Versnel.
A fascinating site in and of itself, Bath, along with the curse tablets found there, represents an interesting kind of cultural hybridization. Visitors to Sulis Minerva’s sacred springs used a Greco-Roman magical ritual, complete with legalese and religious contracts, to express their unique day-to-day concerns. After all, who better to ask for help in the baths than the goddess of Bath?
Adams, Geoff W. “The Social and Cultural Implications of Curse Tablets [Defixiones] in Britain and on the Continent.” Studia Humanoria Tartuensia 7A, no 5. (2006):8-10.
Cousins, Eleri H. “Votive Objects and Ritual Practice at the King’s Spring at Bath.” TRAC 2013: Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, London 2013. Ed. Hannah Platts, Caroline Barron, Jason Lundock, John Pearce, and Justin Yoo. Philadelphia, PA: Oxbow, 2014. 52-64.
Cunliffe, Barry, and Peter Davenport, eds. The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath: The Site. Volume 1 of the Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath. Oxford: OUCA, 1985.
—. The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath: The Finds from the Sacred Spring. Volume 2 of the Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath. Oxford: OUCA, 1988.
Fagan, Garrett G. Bathing in Public in the Roman World. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005.
Henig, Martin. Religion in Roman Britain. London: Batsford, 1984.
Ireland, Stanley. Roman Britain: A Sourcebook. 3 rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Curse Tablets from Roman Britain
An electronic publication of the texts and archaeological context of inscribed lead tablets from Roman Britain, carried out by the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford.
Of the provinces of the former Roman empire, Britain is among the most fertile in curse tablets. At least 250 of the known 500+ Latin tablets have been found in Britain and more continue to be recovered. The two most important groups are the 100+ recovered in the sacred spring at Bath and the 87 documented from the rural shrine of Uley, Gloucestershire (see Uley introduction). From such substantial groups of documents, written or at least deposited in the same place, we can recover much information about the traditions of writing curse tablets (see Creating the curse - writing the curse), the rituals that accompanied the inscribing of curses and the context in which people thought it appropriate to create their curses, potentially a stigmatised activity because of its magical associations (see People, goods and gods - the workings of magic).
The majority of tablets have come to light in southern Britain around the Severn estuary, but they have also been found in London and Kent, on the Hamble estuary in Hampshire to the south and in the east Midlands and East Anglia. They have been found in towns with cosmopolitan populations, for example London and Bath, and at remote shrines, for example Brean Down, perched on a peninsula projecting into the Bristol Channel (see Brean Down introduction). To judge from the dating evidence of their scripts (see Curses and cursive - scripts), tablets were written throughout the period of the Roman presence in Britain, but the predominance of 'Old Roman Cursive' among the dated tablets suggest a peak in the second and third centuries AD.
The distribution of curse tablets is very different from that of other written documents in Britain. Stone inscriptions are mostly found at places associated with the Roman army, especially garrisons of forts and fortresses on Britain's northern frontier. Most wooden writing tablets too have been found during excavations of military sites, especially Vindolanda and Carlisle, as well as from London. Curse tablets by contrast are a precious source of evidence for the words and wishes of the town and country people of Roman Britain, albeit expressed in a very particular form. To judge from the names of those who commissioned or wrote them and the items that they seek to recover, the authors of curses are of relatively modest status (see People, goods and gods - victims and wrongdoers).
Curse Tablets of Roman Britain
‘Curse tablets’ are small sheets of lead, inscribed with messages from individuals seeking to make gods and spirits act on their behalf and influence the behaviour of others against their will. The motives are usually malign and their expression violent, for example to wreck an opponent’s chariot in the circus, to compel a person to submit to sex or to take revenge on a theif. Letters and lines written back to front, magical ‘gibberish’ and arcane words and symbols often lend the texts additional power to persuade. In places where supernatural agents could be contacted, thrown into sacred pools at temples, interred with the dead or hidden by the turning post at the circus, these tablets have survived to be found by archaeologists. The webpages introduce curse tablets in the ancient world at large and in Britain in particular. They outline the preparation of curses, from making the tablet through writing the text to dispatching the curse to the gods. They examine the languages and scripts in which they were written, the cursers, the scribes and those who were cursed. Motives for cursing and the supernatural powers engaged to put curses into effect are investigated. We explore too where tablets are found and how they are preserved and interpreted by archaeologists and historians. The 'archaeological sites' section of the website introduces the contexts in which curse tablets have been found. As well as Uley, the archaeological sites presented here include the temples at Lydney (Gloucestershire), Brean Down (Somerset), Pagans Hill (Somerset), the amphitheatre of the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Gwent), and the small towns at Chesterton-on-Fosse (Warwickshire) and Leintwardine (Herefordshire). The context of the other tablets found by metal detectorists is also briefly described (Hamble (Hampshire), Marlborough and Wanborough (Wiltshire)).
The site's location, the date and circumstances of excavation, and an indication of the information recovered by archaeologists at each findspot are reported in each section. Where known the context of the curse tablets is presented. The evidence at temple sites for the deities addressed by curses and the rituals that were conducted is also outlined. Given the larger number of curse tablets and the large scale of archaeological excavation, Uley is presented in greater detail than other sites. Further information is provided on the contexts at Uley in which tablets were found and the processes that led to their deposition in those contexts.
8 The Cursed Greengrocer
There are plenty of people you might think are worth the trouble of cursing. Military opponents, love rivals, that one sibling in every family that no one talks about . . . it&rsquos a long list, but we&rsquore pretty sure that the man who sells your fruits and vegetables probably isn&rsquot anywhere on it. Around 1,700 years ago, however, there was a greengrocer living in Antioch who didn&rsquot just get on someone&rsquos bad side he did something that made him the target of a rather long, Old Testament–style, fire and brimstone curse.
Discovered in a former Roman city in southeastern Turkey, the tablet was translated by University of Washington scholars in an attempt to decode not just the curse itself, but why this seemingly unlikely curse was issued in the first place. The double-sided lead tablet starts out strong, calling for thunder and lightning to strike down the greengrocer, named Babylas. It&rsquos a plea for all the power of Yahweh to be directed toward the apparently offensive man, for all the rage of a divine being who killed Egypt&rsquos firstborns to turn toward Babylas.
So what did the greengrocer do to earn himself such divine wrath? The name of the person behind the curse isn&rsquot mentioned, but it&rsquos likely that there was some kind of business rivalry going on that led to the man turning to curses to get rid of the competition. The name of the greengrocer, Babylas, might hold a clue, too. At the time, the Roman city was in the grip of a religious revolution, and at the same time the greengrocer was cursed, another man named Babylas was martyred for his Christian beliefs. The Bishop of Antioch was killed in the third century, making it possible that the greengrocer was targeted not for his business sense, but for his religion.
Some of the spells were discovered together with small figures, which have falsely been described as voodoo dolls. Β] The dolls or figurines were sometimes also pierced with nails. The figurines looked like the target and often had both their feet and hands bound. Γ] Not all curse tablets were made with lead. Curses were also written on papyrus, wax, wood or other perishable materials, but these are less likely to show up in the archaeological record. Δ]
The texts on curse tablets are typically addressed to infernal or liminal gods such as Hermes, Charon, Hecate, and Persephone. Sometimes, a sometimes a dead person (probably the corpse in whose grave the tablet was placed) had to mediate. Some texts do not invoke the gods, but merely list the targets of the curse, the crimes or conditions when the curse is valid, and/or the intended ill to befall them. Some tablets are inscribed with nothing more than the names of the targets. Some people think that an oral spell may have accompanied the making of the curse. Ε]
Shadows in the Mist: The Quest for a Historical King Arthur
I've remarked in an earlier blog post that I'm not privy to the British cult title or epithet given to Mercury/Mars/Silvanus at the Uley Shrine next to Uley Bury (quite possibly *Cambolanda/Camlan). As a result, I've had to resort to a very careful study of the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY place-names as those relate to the environs of Gloucester and the Severn estuary. I've also gleaned whatever scant clues I could from the few curse tablet translations that have been published.
In Curse Tablet 75, the god (dei) is referred to as 'potentissimus' (powerful, strong, mighty and the like). If (and this is a HUGE 'if') this is a Latin attempt at the god's cult title, then the only place worth looking at, really, is *Magalonium.
Rivet and Smith have *Magalonium for the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY'S Macatonion. Here are the sections in R&S dealing with both *Magalonium and *Maglona:
- Ravenna, 10629 : MACATONION ?
DERIVATION. R&C propose to emend this to *Magalonion, reasonably enough (with c for g by scribal confusion, as often although Mac- may accurately represent the same root, as in Hispanic personal names Macilo / Magilo, ELH I. 359, and Macalu, a divine name in a graffito of Seraucourt (Bourges, France : DAG 354). This *Magalonium they then derive from a river-name *Magalona, which with British *-io- derivational suffix gives for the whole name a sense 'place on the noble river'. Their base is an Indo-European root *mak- 'to grow' (Holder II. 362), from which Welsh magu and Breton maga 'to feed' ultimately come, as do Latin magnus and Greek megalos. Among place-names closely related are then British Maglona and its précise equivalent Magalona > Maguelonne (Hérault, France), Magalonnum > Moulons (Charente-Maritime, France). The origin of many personal names related to these lies in *maglo-s, perhaps 'great one', from which derive Old Irish mal, Welsh and Breton mael 'prince', present in such ancient names as Magalos, Magilos, Magilius in Britain, Brigomaglos on a subRoman tombstone at Chesterholm (RIB 1722). Based on the mag- root are the divine name Magusanus, associated with Hercules in a dedication at Mumrills, Stirlingshire (RIB 2140) also DAG 943 (many) and the Gaulish place-name Magdunum > Méhun-sur-Yèvre (Cher, France) and Meung-sur-Loire (Loiret, France), together with British Magantia, Magiovinium and perhaps Maia.
Whether R&C's speculation about *Magalona river is warranted can be judged from the Continental analogues, for which no such supposition has to be made and from the fact that no modem river-namc derives from this. It seems simplest to see the name as built on *magal- with suffixes *-on- io-, as in CANONIUM and as meaning 'high, outstanding place' or the like, possibly 'noble place'.
It might turn out that Ravenna's Macat- is right after all. A name Macato (reading of the first a being doubtful) is recorded in CIL XIII 5806 (Langres), and other names, mostly personal, are known with Mac(c)- see GPN 364-65.
IDENTIFICATION. Unknown, but apparently not far from Gloucester.
* Rivet & Smith : Old Carlisle, Cumberland.
- Inscription : RIB899, which may belong here : see MAGIS
- ND XL13 (pictura) : MAGLOUE
- ND XL28 (text) : Praefectus numeri Solensium, MAGLONE (var. MAGLOUE)
ND's forms with u have a common copying fault of u for n. Final -e may simply be -a miscopied, or a first-declension locative.
DERIVATION. Maglona belongs with the names listed under *Magalonium, based on the root *mag-. Gaulish Magalona > Maguelonne (Hérault, France) is an exact equivalent of the British name, which has lost the unstressed vowel by elision. A similar sense, 'high, out-standing place', perhaps 'noble place', is appropriate.
IDENTIFICATION. Probably the Roman fort at Old Carlisle, Cumberland (NY 2646).
There is a Gaulish god (and also a chieftain) named Magalos on the Continent. A place named for such a god in Britain could have taken a form such as *Magalonium. For the etymology of Magalos we may compare maglos, from the PIE root *meg'h2- meaning 'great' or 'mighty.' (1)
Magalonium is thought to have been somewhere in the vicinity of Gloucester, and this would fit the location of the Uley shrine.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that this idea is based in ignorance of the actual cult name found in the Uley shrine curse tablets. For now, the only person in the world who has possession of that information is Professor Roger Tomlin of Oxford - and he is not in a sharing mood at present. We shall have to wait for his future publication of a definitive edition of translations with the Institute of Classical Studies, London.
*maglo- 'noble, chief [Noun]
GOlD: Olr. mal [0 m], Ogam CUNA-MAGLI
W: MW mael [m] 'chieftain, lord' MW -mael, -fael (in PN) (e.g. Brochfael
BRET: MBret. -mael (in PN, e.g. Tiernmael)
GAUL: Magalos, -maglus [PN]
PIE: *megh2- 'great' (IEW: 709)
COGN: Gr. megas, Go. mikils
ETYM: If the etymology is correc
the a-vocalism in Celtic should be
explained by Schrijver's rule (*mCvolced- > *maCvOIced-), but this rule is not
beyond doubt. Gaul. Magalos, if related, might represent PIE *mgh2-lo- with
the expected vocalization of the laryngeal (which was, for some reason, lost
in Insular Celtic and in Gaul. -mag/us).
REF: LEIA M-13, GPC III: 2305, Delamarre 213, Ziegler 1994: 112
Roman curses discovered on ancient tablet
An ancient Roman lead scroll unearthed in England three years ago has turned out to be a curse intended to cause misfortune to more than a dozen people, according to new research.
Found in East Farleigh, U.K., in the filling of a 3rd to 4th Century AD building that may have originally been a temple, the scroll was made of a 2.3- by 3.9-inch inscribed lead tablet.
Popular in the Greek and Roman world, these sorts of "black magic" curses called upon gods to torment specific victims.
Overall, more than 200 curse tablets have been found in Britain. The largest collection was found in the thermal spring at Bath -- about 100 tablets -- and are displayed in the Roman Baths Museum.
The second-largest collection is from the Roman temple at Uley, and some are displayed in the British Museum.
Most curses related to thefts and called upon a god to fulfill the malevolent wishes detailed in the inscriptions.
One of the tablets from Bath, for example, prayed that its victim should "become as liquid as water," while another on display at the British Museum cursed "Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory."
According to the Maidstone Area archaeologists, it is reasonable to assume that the names listed were of people who lived at the site.
"Since the Romans were the first inhabitants of England who could read and write, they represent the earliest inhabitants of East Farleigh that we may ever be able to put a name to," they said.
Further conservation work will be carried out on the scroll starting at the end of the month. Experts hope that this will result in more letters becoming visible.
Rolled up to conceal their inscriptions, the tablets were either nailed to the wall of a temple or buried in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.
The scroll, unearthed in the Kent village had been carefully rolled up and buried, most likely in the third century AD, similar to other curse tablets found throughout Europe.
The researchers tried to read the fragile scroll without unrolling it by using a technique called neutron computed tomography imaging at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, but "the resolution was not sufficient to discern any writing on it," said the Maidstone Area Archaeological Group, which made the finding.
As the curse tablet, or defixio, was unrolled, the inscribed letters became visible under a scanning electron microscope.
Roger Tomlin, lecturer in late Roman history at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, was finally able to decode the inscribed text.
"The tablet is not necessarily complete, but what there is consists of two columns of personal names," Tomlin told Discovery News.
He deciphered the Latin names Sacratus, Constitutus, Memorianus, Constant[. ] and the Celtic names (Atr)ectus and Atidenus. Eight other names are incomplete.
Interestingly, the scribe wrote a few of the names backward or upside down.
Experts speculated that this was probably intended to invoke "sympathetic magic" and make life especially difficult for the named and shamed individuals.
However, the motive of the curse and the curse itself remain a mystery.
"No god is named. Indeed, we cannot be sure that we have the beginning of the text," Tomlin said.