Israel’s Antiquities Authority unearths a lead tablet that tells of a relationship gone awry • Archaeologists believe a woman named Kyrilla hired a wizard to help her practice sorcery on a man named Iennys, with whom she had an undefined conflict.
Black magic woman: A Roman woman used this tablet to cast a spell on her nemesis
Photo credit: Clara Amit
A lead tablet carrying a curse written in ancient Greek was discovered recently under a parking lot next to the City of David in Jerusalem.
The thin lead tablet, which was found rolled up like a small pipe, was unearthed during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the ruins of a Roman villa.
The artifact was sent to an Antiquities Authority laboratory where preservationist Lena Kupershmidt carefully unrolled it. She was the first to see the ancient writing since it was inscribed and rolled up 1,700 years ago.
The tablet turned out to be in excellent condition, with one side of it filled with Greek writing. The text was written in clear and fluent language, most likely by a professional wizard or magician.
According to Dr. Robert Daniel from the University of Cologne in Germany, who was asked to decipher the text, the magician’s services had been hired by a woman named Kyrilla.
The tablet contains a curse that Kyrilla wished to place on a man named lennys, perhaps because the two were involved in a legal dispute. For this purpose she invokes the aid of gods connected to the underworld, including the Roman god Pluto and the Greek gods Hermes and Persephone. Even the Mesopotamian goddess Ereshkigal is recruited for the mission.
A partial translation of the text reads: “I strike and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the resistance of Iennys.”
Archaeologists with the Antiquities Authority say that while this may be metaphorical description of the way that Kyrilla hoped to overcome her rival, it may also be a literal description of a magic ritual. In that case, Kyrilla may actually have used a hammer and nails to puncture a small figurine of Iennys while reciting the curse.
Apparently, Kyrilla buried the tablet in a place connected to Iennys. The tablet was found in a very large building from the Roman era. The building may have been where Iennys lived or worked, or the courthouse where their trial was to take place.
Shortly after Kyrilla buried the tablet, an earthquake struck Jerusalem in 363 C.E., damaging the building, which was subsequently abandoned.