Cryptic messages, etched onto gold and silver tablets, were given to Serbia’s dead with hopes that the communique would be passed on to the dutiful demons and deities with whom the lost souls would share a plane.
Of course other curse tablets have been found around the world, but they are usually made of lead, not precious metal. “This is a very important archaeological discovery because it shows us how luxurious the life in Viminacium was or how much hope they had in the 'curse tablets' so that they used precious metals," said archaeologist Miomir Korac.
The tablets were found in the Serbian city of Kostolac, next to a coal-fired power station. The area, where the ancient Roman city of Viminacium once stood, was being surveyed before another electricity plant was built on the site. When Korac and his team approached the site they found human skeletons guarding it.
After cautiously removing the soil that clung to the bones, the archaeologists happened upon two amulets of lead, and inside of these amulets, scrolls—no bigger than a gum wrapper—covered in writing and symbols. The scrolls were rendered with the texture of aluminum foil, thanks to the unique properties of precious metal.
The inscriptions written in Greek and some other indecipherable languages are believed to be magic spells used to commission supernatural beings for help in their personal affairs.
"They 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,’” said archaeologist Ilija Dankovic at the site.
“We read the names of a few demons that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria,” he continued.
Interestingly, those parties invoked did not belong to one specific religion; instead there appears on the tablets both Christian and Pagan gods. The inclusion of both Christian and Pagan gods is demonstrative of the slow but progressive spread of Christianity in the region. Christians and pagans often inhabited the same burial sites and evidence suggests the groups lived in relative harmony.
One such curse tablet, discovered in London and translated by the British Museum, 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."
Another tablet features this inscription:
“...so long as someone, whether slave or free, keeps silent or knows anything about it, he may be accursed in (his) blood, and eyes and every limb and even have all (his) intestines quite eaten away if he has stolen the ring or been privy (to the theft)".
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