Curse of the month #1 – November 2013

I had planned to get this feature up and running last month, but other things got in my way! Never mind, here it is anyway – my curse tablet of the month!

Over the next three years I will be reading and interpreting hundreds of the things, so I thought it would be a nice idea to pick one a month to write a blog post about. I think it will help me get my head around some of the interpretation stuff, as well as letting you, dear reader, have a look at a few of the things that get me so worked up 🙂

This week I’ve been experimenting with making a database of curse tablets in MS Access using the finds from Bath as a sample, so my CT of the month comes from there. It is one of over 130 found in the natural spring attached to the Roman baths, which was sacred to the goddess Sulis Minerva. The goddess was an a local deity, who had been connected to the Roman goddess Minerva, and her shrine at the baths was seemingly the prime location for connecting to her.

Tab Sulis: 32. (Tomlin 1988: 150-1). Inscribed on lead, folded four times then deposited in the sacred spring.

Reconstructed Latin text

deae Suli Minerv(a)e Solinus dono numini tuo maiestati paxsa(m) ba(ln)earem et [pal]leum [nec p]ermitta[s so]mnum nec san[ita]tem <.>ei qui mihi fr(a)udem [f]ecit si vir si femi[na] si servus s[i] l[ib]er nissi [<s>s]e retegens istas s[p]ecies ad [te]mplum tuum detulerit (…li]beri sui vel son.. sua e[t?] qui [.].[..]..[…..]deg…[ ei quoque [……]xe[ […….. so]mnum ne[c sanitatem [………]n[……p]al<u>l[e]um et reli<n>q[ua]s nissi ad [te]mplum tuum istas res retulerint

English translation

“Solinus to the goddess Sulis Minerva. I give to your divinity (and) majesty (my) bathing tunic and cloak. Do not allow sleep or health to him who has done me wrong, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, unless he reveals himself and brings those goods to your temple… his children or his… and(?) who to him also … sleep or [health]… cloak and the rest, unless they bring those things to your temple.”

Like a lot of curse tablets, this one is fragmentary, so the reading and translation is unclear in places. What we can read from it tells us that it was made by (or for) someone who had lost a cloak and tunic. The majority of tablets from Bath deal with thefts, and its probable that the items were stolen in the baths themselves.  What I really like about these curses is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to picture Solinus getting back to the changing rooms after his swim to find that his clothes had been stolen. Those of us who have had things stolen from swimming pool changing rooms can easily sympathise with the man for wanting the thief, and his family, to be rendered ill and sleepless until the property is returned!

There are common formulas in the writing – ‘whether man or woman, whether slave or free’ appears in many tablets, not just from Bath but from across the empire. This suggests that Solinus was using an established tradition to get his stuff back, talking to the gods in ways that were known to work.

Next month I will hopefully get out of Bath, and look at some curses from further afield. In the meantime, if you want to know more, send me a message!

NB: Both the Latin text and English translation are from R. Tomlin, 1988. The Curse Tablets. In B. Cunliffe (ed) The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath: Vol. 2 The Finds from the Sacred Spring. Oxford. Any errors in copying are my own, and I apologise for them 🙂