Archaeologists have recently unearthed five lead tablets dating back 2,400 years. The intriguing fact about this discovery is that it bears an ancient curse meant for tavern keepers from ancient Greece.
The five tablets were found inside the grave of a young woman from Athens, Greece. Four of the tablets were engraved with curses invoking the names of “chthonic” gods, or the deities of the underworld. Their role was to inflict bad-doings to various husband-and-wife tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet served a different purpose, as it was found blank and is presumed to have been the subject of an orally recited incantation.
All five pieces were found pierced with an iron nail; they were carefully placed inside the grave of the young woman because, according to ancient beliefs, this was one of the ways the incantations would reach the invoked gods and be honored by them.
One of the texts aimed at harming husband-and-wife tavern keepers named Demetrios and Phanagora. The curse (translated from ancient Greek) read the following:
Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions, I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead…I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a ‘kynotos’ on your tongue.
The term ‘kynotos’ refers to a ‘dog’s ear,’ that’s an ancient gambling term used for the worst possible throw of dice. According to Jessica Lamont, an instructor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, “By striking Demetrios’ tongue with this condemningly unlucky roll, the curse reveals that local taverns were not just sociable watering holes, but venues ripe for gambling and other unsavory activities in Classic Athens.”
The investigation of the grave revealed that the woman found inside might have had no implication with the cursed tablets or tavern keepers. It’s possible that she had the misfortune to be buried when someone wanted to inflict those curses, and since her resting place had been accessible at that moment, the black magic practitioner might have slipped the tablets there to efficiently reach the underworld.
“The way that curse tablets work is that they’re meant to be deposited in an underground location,” Lamont said. “It’s thought that these subterranean places provided a conduit through which the curses could have reached the underworld, and its chthonic gods would then do the curse’s biddings.”
It’s possible that the person who wrote the curses provided other kinds of supernatural services as well. For the right price, anyone could hire a black magic practitioner who could inflict curses, charms and other spells and incantation. It seems that in this case, someone from Athens’ tavern-keeping industry hired the ‘curser’ to try and get rid of the competition. “I think it’s likely that the person who commissioned them was probably in the world of the tavern himself or herself, possibly a business rival of the four husband-and-wife tavern keepers,” said Lamont.
Such practices were common a few centuries ago, and although it cannot be determined whether or not they were efficient, the unearthing of the five tablets reveal important facts about the way people used to think and act back then. “It’s very rare that you get something so explicit and lengthy and beautifully written, of course in a very terrible way,” Lamont said.
We can only speculate if the curses reached the gods of the underworld, but since there were many people in ancient Greece who paid for such services, it’s likely that some visible consequences resulted from this kind of wrongdoing. (source)
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