1,700-year old Roman ‘magic spells’ with Eastern language discovered in Serbia

1700-year-old-roman-magic-spells-serbia_1Credit: Archaeological Institute in Belgrade

Historically, the Viminacium archaeological site of Serbia corresponded to the ancient provincial capital (and military camp) of the Roman province of Moesia. To that end, by 1st century AD, Viminacium was possibly one the largest Roman cities of Europe with its peak population of over 40,000 people. And now mirroring such an ancient ‘multifarious’ ambit of the site, archaeologists have come across tiny gold and silver ‘rolls’ that were basically etched with contrived magic spells.

These incantations in question seem to invoke divine entities for either good actions or evil repercussions. But the researchers are still trying their best to decipher the odd combination of the languages and abstruse symbols that make up these so-called spells. A few of them possibly even contain the name of demons that are mostly associated with the native culture of distant Syria in the ancient times. This is what chief researcher Miomir Korac, from the Archaeological Institute in Belgrade, had to say about the cross-cultural scope –

The alphabet is Greek, that much we know. The language is Aramaic – it’s a Middle Eastern mystery to us.

Now from the archaeological perspective, these magic spell sheets were found alongside human skeletal remains that were buried between the period ranging from 1st to 6th century AD. Interestingly, the thinly-beaten rolls (made out of gold and silver) were put inside lead tablets. So when unrolled, these rectangular foils look like candy wrappers – thus attesting to their intricate craftsmanship.

Archaeologist works over an uncovered skeleton at the Viminacium site

Credit: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

As for the context of the magic spells, according to the researchers, ancient charms were often buried alongside individuals (especially children) who suffered violent deaths. Ilija Dankovic, one of the archaeologists involved in the project, said –

[because of a belief that] souls of such people took longer to find rest and had a better chance of finding demons and deities and pass the wishes to them so they could do their magic.

He also said how some of the magic spells reflected the universality of humans emotions ranging from love to jealousy –

They [the spells] were often love charms, ordering someone to fall in love, but there were also dark, malignant curses, to the tune of: ‘may your body turn dead, as cold and heavy as this lead’.

Intriguingly enough, these ‘wrapped’ magic spells do allude to how the rich folks of Viminacium were drawn towards the occult and superstitious beliefs – so much so that they were willing to use precious metals for their curse-tablets. As a matter of fact, the Romans were actually loath to bury gold objects in their graves; but discoveries such as these contradict the general archaeological notions. And it seems that these ‘uncanny’ legacies of the ancient times have had their effect even on the modern population, with many people living in the proximate regions of Serbia having a tendency to believe in superstitions.

Moreover, it should be noted that magic spells and curse inscriptions are not only native to the ancient site of Viminacium. Back in April, a team of archaeologists unearthed five ancient curse tablets from a grave in the Greek capital city of Athens. Found inside the grave of a young woman, the 2400-year-old lead tablets bore curses aimed at tavern keepers – and the inscriptions invoked the “chthonic” (meaning, ‘underworld’) gods of the time.


Credit: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

Sources: Reuters / NBCNews

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