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                    DEFIXIONUM TABELLAE   2   (viene de 1 ),   3



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‘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 thief. 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.

Our written evidence for the Greek and Roman world mostly derives from literary texts written by and for small aristocratic groups, but in curse tablets we hear different voices, of provincials and non-citizens on the edge of empire, women and slaves. With the growing number of discoveries, scholars have become more familiar with the scripts and are reading texts with greater confidence. Since the major discoveries of curses at Bath and at Uley Roman Britain has been at the centre of the study of curse tablets, since the province is currently the principal source for new discoveries of curses in Latin.

The following pages 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.

Throughout this introduction cross-references are made to the tablets and to the archaeological sites presented elsewhere in this website. Evidence from other curse tablets in Britain, especially Bath, and across the ancient world is also used.

next: curses from Greece and Rome

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Uley 1

 Latin text  
        English translation           

Author: Cenacus

Authority: Roger Tomlin

Publications: Britannia 10 (1979) 340-2, No. 2

Keywords: draught animal


Irregular oblong, inscribed short-axis in ORC on both sides (not seen), measuring 85 x 135mm folded. There are patches of corrosion, but the text is well preserved. Published in Britannia 10 (1979) 340-2, no 2, from an electrotype and here revised; the original has not yet been examined.




    1 deo Mercurio
n   2 Cenacus queritur
    3 de Vitalino et Nata-
    4 lino filio ipsius d(e)
    5 iument[o] quod ei rap-
    6 tum est e[t] rogat
    7 deum Mercurium
n   8 ut nec ante sa-
    9 nitatem
n   10 habeant nissi
    11 [[nissi]] repraese[n]-
    12 taverint mihi [iu]-
    13 mentum quod ra-
    14 puerunt et deo
n   15 devotione[m] qua[m]
    16 ipse ab his ex-
    17 postulaverit


    1 deomercurio uacat
    2 cenacusqueritur
    3 deuitalinoetnata
    4 linofilioipsiusd
    5 iument[1-2]quodeirap
    6 tumest e.rogat
    7 deummercurium
    8 utnecantesa
    9 nitatem
    10 habeantnissi
    11 [[nissi]]repraese[. . .]
    12 tauerintmihi[. . .]
    13 mentumquodra
    14 pueruntetdeo
    15 deuotione.qua[. . .]
    16 ipseabhisex
    17 postulauerit


      View the line notes


Cenacus complains to the god Mercury about Vitalinus and Natalinus his son concerning the draught animal which has been stolen from him, and asks the god Mercury that they may have neither health before/unless they return at once to me the draught animal which they have stolen, and to the god the devotion which he has demanded from them himself.

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Uley 2

 Latin text  
        English translation           

Author: Saturnina

Authority: Roger Tomlin

Publications: Britannia 10 (1979) 343, No. 3

Keywords: linen cloth


Rectangle cut from lead sheet (not seen), measuring 83 x 60mm, folded. Inscribed both sides in capitals, damaged at the folds and at the corners, but otherwise complete and in good condition. Published in Britannia 10 (1979) 343, no 3, from an electrotype and here revised; the original has not yet been examined.




n   1 commonitorium deo
n   2 Mercurio a Satur-
n   3 nina muliere de lintia-
    4 mine quod amisit ut il-
n   5 le qui ho[c] circumvenit non
n   6 ante laxetur nissi quand[o]
n   7 res s(upra)dictas ad fanum s(upra)d[ic]-
    8 tum attul[e]rit si vir si [m]u-
    9 lier si servus si liber
n   10 deo s(upra)dicto tertiam
    11 partem [d]onat ita ut
n   12 exsigat istas res quae
n   13 s(upra)s(crip)ta sunt
n   14 ACA quae per(didi)t deo Silvano
n   15 tertia pars donatur ita ut
n   16 hoc exsigat si vir si femina si s[erv]-
    17 us si liber [c.2].[c.7].at


    1 commonitoriumdeo
    2 mercurio (over martisiluano) asatur
    3 ninamulieredelintia
    4 minequodamisitutil
    5 lequiho.circumuenitnon
    6 antelaxeturnissiquand.
    7 resssdictasadfanumssd[1-2]
    8 tumattul.ritsiuirsi.u
    9 lier siseruussiliber
    10 deossdictotertiam
    11 partem.onatitaut uacat(?)
    12 exsigatistasresquae
    13 sstasunt uacat
    14 acaquaepertdeosiluano
    15 tertiaparsdonaturitaut
    16 hocexsigatsiuirsifeminasis..[.]
    17 ussiliber[c2].[c7].at


      View the line notes


A memorandum to the god...Mercury (over Mars Silvanus) 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/until he brings the aforesaid property to the aforesaid temple, whether man or woman, whether slave or free. She gives a third part to the aforesaid god on condition that he exact this property which has been written above. A third part...what she has lost is given to the god Silvanus on condition that he exact it, whether man or woman, whether slave or free...