Curse Tablet from Jerusalem

Owen Jarus’ interesting piece at Livescience is getting picked up all over the place … some excerpts:

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


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. [See Photos of the Ancient Curse Tablet ]

“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 four 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 religion connected to early Christianity . Additionally, the text contains magic words such as “Iaoth” that have a Hebrew/Judaism origin.

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.


Archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, both with the Israel Antiquities Authority, told LiveScience in an email they discovered the remains of mosaics and frescos that contain geometric and floral motifs near the tablet. They also found carved bone fragments from a box that depict the “Triumph of Dionysus,” a Greek god , along with maritime imagery such as seahorses.

The team also uncovered roof tiles in the mansion that contain the stamp of the Roman 10th legion, a unit that, for a time, was stationed in Jerusalem. “This practice is common for all the provinces of the Roman Empire . In peaceful times soldiers were responsible for ‘civil engineering’: They built roads and aqueducts, produced tiles and bricks, etc. The 10th legion produced so many tiles, that it was enough for many more years of construction activity in the city, long after the legion itself left Jerusalem,” Ben Ami and Tchekhanovets said.

The researchers also found female figurines, probably depicting a goddess. They were likely used in a “private cult” whose members included residents of the mansion. These figurines were found at or below floor level and may not have been part of the second-floor room that the curse was placed in.


… the original article has more info about the ‘mansion’ itself and there’s also a nice slideshow.

That said, I thought we had another example of a curse tablet from Jerusalem in the last five years or so … my search engines are failing me.  Whatever the case, the full story (as Jarus tells us) is in the latest ZPE …

Roman Curse Tablet from Kent Followup

The BBC’s coverage of that curse tablet that was recently looked at by Roger Tomlin hinted that more work might be done on it (A Roman Curse Tablet from Kent (and a Phylactery from West Deeping)), and now we hear that there will be … from Kent Online:

Work to conserve a Roman scroll believed to be more than 1,700 years old is to be carried out in Sittingbourne.

Archaeologist and conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown will pick up the lead tablet from Oxford University towards the end of next month.

She will then bring it back to her CSI (Conservation Science Investigations) lab at The Forum shopping centre, giving visitors and shoppers the chance to watch her working on the artefact in October.

The scroll was unearthed by members of the Maidstone Area Archaeological Group in a field in East Farleigh, in 2009.

Measuring just 60mm by 100mm and only one millimetre thick, it is believed to be a curse tablet.

Used by the Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft or other misdeeds, they were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.

Since its discovery, Dana has sought ways of reading its inscription without unrolling it due to its fragility.

She said: “We took it to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for neutron-computed tomography imaging but the scroll is very thin and the resolution of the tomography was not good enough to see the writing.”

Several months ago the decision was finally made to unroll it.

It was then sent to Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in Late Roman History at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, who spent four days examining it.

He found, in capital letters, the Latin names SACRATUS, CONSTITUT[US], CONSTAN[…] and MEMORIA[NUS], the Celtic names [ATR]ECTUS and ATIDENUS, and eight others which are incomplete.

As the Romans were the first inhabitants of Kent who could read and write the names are likely to be the earliest written record of inhabitants in the village.

Dana now plans to carry out further work to reveal more of the scroll’s letters.

She said: “It’s corroded in some places so I will be testing methods to reveal more of the letters and our new Scanning Electron Microscope, which allows us to magnify and take pictures of the letters, will hopefully be installed at CSI around the same time. So we should be able to get some more of the names.

“I’ll have it until I’m finished with it then it will go back to Dr Tomlin and eventually back to the archaeological group.”

A Roman Curse Tablet from Kent (and a Phylactery from West Deeping)

This just in from the BBC … the salient bits:

A “curse tablet” made of lead and buried in a Roman farmstead has been unearthed in East Farleigh.

Inscribed in capital letters are the names of 14 people, which experts believe were intended to have bad spells cast upon them.

The tablet is being examined by a specialist from Oxford University.

It was discovered by the Kent Archaeological Society during a dig and has undergone a detailed series of tests.

Measuring 6cm (2.3in) by 10cm (3.9in) and 1mm thick, the tablet is extremely fragile.

Experts believe it would have been used by Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft and other misdeeds.

The tablets, which have been found throughout Europe, were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions, then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.
‘Suspected of theft’

Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in late Roman history at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, spent four days examining the scroll.

He said it is difficult to date the tablet but believes it was made in the third century AD.
Dr Roger Tomlin Dr Roger Tomlin said the tablet is likely to date from the third century AD

“Lists of names are quite often found on lead tablets,” he said. “Sometimes they accompany a complaint of theft addressed to a god, and name persons suspected of the theft.

“In one case, a tablet found in Germany, the names were explicitly those of enemies.”

The tablet’s significance also lies in the fact that Romans were the first inhabitants of Britain who could read or write.

This means the tablet, along with other similar items, are among the earliest written records of British life.
‘Local community’

Only six of the 14 names are legible. The Roman names of Sacratus, Constitutus, Constan and Memorianus can be seen.

There are also two Celtic names – Atrectus and Atidenus – written on the tablet.

Dr Tomlin said the eight other names are incomplete, but further cleaning and testing could lead to them being transcribed.

He added: “If this is a curse tablet, which it seems to be, it is presumably a product of its local community – so it is a reasonable guess that the persons named on it lived there.” […]

There’s a photo that accompanies the original article; it is a bit too small to be useful alas …

FWIW, Roger Tomlin seems to be quite busy … just the other day he was mentioned in bloggish sort of thing reporting on a phylactery from West Deeping that has just on on display: Unique Roman prayer tablet goes on display