Lead curse (defixio). Roman Britain, 1st-4th century AD. Found in Telegraph Street, Moorgate, London.
The dark side of life in Roman Britain
The wishing of ill-health, or worse, on a person is typical of many Roman curses.
This example from Roman London, scratched on a fragment of lead sheet, reads:
'I curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed, nor be able…'.
Curses were sometimes rolled up, hidden under floors or in wall cavities, or nailed up. After this example had been inscribed it was pierced by seven holes driven through from the back of the sheet, a procedure perhaps intended to increase the power of the curse. (x)
Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Wine horn with gazelle protome, made of silver and gilt.
Iran, Sasanian period, 4th century AD.
Courtesy & currently located at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, USA. Photo taken by Daderot.
The most famous cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia
The Flood Tablet, relating part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, From Nineveh, northern Iraq, Neo-Assyrian, 7th century BC.
The Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BC) collected a library of thousands of cuneiform tablets in his palace at Nineveh. It included letters, legal texts, lists of people, animals and goods, and a wealth of scientific information, as well as myths and legends.
The best known of these was the story of Gilgamesh, a legendary ruler of Uruk, and his search for immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a huge work, the longest piece of literature in Akkadian (the language of Babylonia and Assyria). It was known across the ancient Near East, with versions also found at Hattusas (capital of the Hittites), Emar in Syria and Megiddo in the Levant.
This, the eleventh tablet of the Epic, describes the meeting of Gilgamesh with Utnapishtim. Like Noah in the Hebrew Bible, Utnapishtim had been forewarned of a plan by the gods to send a great flood. He built a boat and loaded it with all his precious possessions, his kith and kin, domesticated and wild animals and skilled craftsmen of every kind.
Utnapishtim survived the flood for six days while mankind was destroyed, before landing on a mountain called Nimush. He released a dove and a swallow but they did not find dry land to rest on, and returned. Finally a raven that he released did not return, showing that the waters must have receded.
This Assyrian version of the Old Testament flood story was identified in 1872 by George Smith, an assistant in The British Museum. On reading the text he … jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself. (x)
Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Jessica Spengler.
A quick look at Lares: The Roman household guardian spirits
The example used above dates to the early 1st century AD, and is currently located at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain (photo taken by Luis García).
It was believed that the lares observed, influenced, and protected all that happened within the boundaries of their placement and function. The presence of their statues seem to have been required at all important family events.
Lares were Roman guardian spirits, possibly the ghosts of ancestors. They were worshipped as the protecting spirits of crossroads, in the city as guardians of the state, and most importantly as protectors of the house and its inhabitants. Lares had no clear personalities or mythologies associated with them.
Nearly every Roman household possessed statuettes of the lares, usually in pairs that were placed in a lararium, or shrine, that was built in the central court (atrium) of the home or in the kitchen. These shrines sometimes contained paintings rather than statuettes of the deities. Offerings, sacrifices, and prayers were made to the lares and to other household gods (the penates, the guardians of the cupboard, for example). The lares of the crossroads, associated with the emperor’s household gods beginning in the era of Augustus, were worshipped publicly.
-Roman Art: A Resource for Educators, page 97.
The following are examples of larariums, the household shrines which contained the lares statuettes or paintings.
1. This example is from the Amorini Dorati (House of Golden Cupids), Pompeii. Household lares statuettes would have once been placed within. (source, photo by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble)
2. Here’s an example of an alternate form of lararium, with painted lares instead of the statuettes. House of the Vettii, Pompeii. (source)
After the Greek attack, Aeneas flees the burning Troy with his father on his back, his wife Creusa, and his son Ascanius. In the commotion Creusa is unfortunately lost from the group; Aeneas will later return to search for her and meet her spirit.
The following passage is from Virgil’s Aeneid (19 B.C.E.), Book II (translation via the MIT Internet Classics Archive):
The welcome load of my dear father take;
While on my better hand Ascanius hung,
And with unequal paces tripp’d along.
Creusa kept behind; by choice we stray
Thro’ ev’ry dark and ev’ry devious way.
At ev’ry shadow now am seiz’d with fear,
Not for myself, but for the charge I bear;
Till, near the ruin’d gate arriv’d at last,
Secure, and deeming all the danger past,
A frightful noise of trampling feet we hear.
Alas! I lost Creusa: hard to tell
If by her fatal destiny she fell,
Or weary sate, or wander’d with affright;
But she was lost for ever to my sight.
Red-figure amphora from a Greek workshop in Etruria, ca. 470 B.C.E.
Courtesy & currently located at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Germany. Photo taken by Bibi Saint-Pol.
Relief with Two Registers, the reliefs of King Ashur-nasir-pal II, from his palace, Kalhu (modern Nimurd, Iraq), Room I of the Northwest Palace. Circa 883–859 B.C.
The reliefs served a propagandistic purpose, proclaiming the king’s legitimacy. Because most people in the Near East understood the administration of the state as a collaborative effort between the king and gods, many reliefs show the ruler and his supernatural attendants celebrating religious rituals. The most depict the ruler and his winged protectors (genies) tending a sacred tree.
Courtesy & currently located at the Brooklyn Museum, USA. Photo taken by Wally Gobetz.