Friday, April 12, 2013

I Put a Spell On You (Okay, a Curse)

Those Romans, eh? Always invading and crucifying and cursing people. It's enough to make you think they were kind of jerks.

When you went to a Roman market, you could buy a number of things. Food, trinkets, and of course, curse tablets.

Well, obviously.
Usually the tablet itself was made of either lead or pewter. One of the reasons for this was that lead was plentiful, particularly in places like Attica or occupied Britain, where curses were particularly popular.

Once you'd purchased your tablet, you had to come up with your message, which was generally hilarious. You addressed a god, and then labeled your curse (often as a memorandum, seriously), identified the cursee, told the god their offense, and then asked for their grief or blood or small intestine or whatever.

After you were done writing the curse, you folded the tablet over and effectively scrambled the contents into the most aggressive word search ever. This was supposed to obscure the contents from the psychic vision of the cursee, and bring it closer to the god. If you were feeling particularly ambitious you could put some hair or pins inside; one discovered tablet had seven nails hammered through it. (Do NOT mess with seven-nail guy.)

Actual text: "Honoratus to the holy god Mercury.
I complain to your divinity that I have lost
two wheels and four cows
and many small belongings from my house.
I would ask the genius of your divinity that you do not
allow health to the person who has done me wrong,
nor allow him to lie or sit or drink or eat, whether
he is man or woman, whether boy or girl, whether
slave or free, unless he brings my property to me
and is reconciled with me. With renewed prayers I ask
your divinity that my petition may immediately
make me vindicated by your majesty.
The most popular place to leave your tablet seems to have been in water - either pools in temples or, oddly enough, hot springs. Another hotbed of curse activity was in, wait for it, graves. The poor undead sucker you selected was supposed to deliver your curse to Hades or actually wreak havoc itself. For whatever reason this was a practice that was almost never practiced outside of Rome proper. Perhaps Romans were so used to killing everyone that they didn't feel very threatened by the undead. ("Oh yeah we actually had a zombie horde attack the other day; nobody even noticed until after we crucified them all.")

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is interesting. Very cool! This sounds like something I would use in a story. *wheels turning*