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Ancient curse tablet shows why you should never sue a Roman

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Never sue a Roman. At least that seems to be the take away from the discovery of a Roman curse tablet excavated from the ruins of an ancient mansion in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Catholic Online) - An ancient Roman mansion dating to the third and fourth century AD, is yielding some insights into Roman life in the restive Roman province. At that time, the region was a place of religious diversity, something that is reflected in a lead tabled inscribed with a curse.

While excavating one of the rooms, long collapsed from an ancient earthquake in 363 AD, archaeologists uncovered a lead tablet covered with Greek writing. Once deciphered, scholars found a curse, though to be written by a woman, against a man.

According to the inscription, a woman named Kyrilla invokes six different gods from various religions to curse a man named Iennys, against whom she is worried about engaging in a legal dispute.

Translated, part of the curse reads, "I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys.  [May] he in no way oppose, so that he say or perform nothing adverse to Kyrilla . but rather that Iennys, whom the womb bore, be subject to her..."

Kyrilla's curse against Iennys covers all the bases, invoking the power of six gods from four religions. Four Greek gods, one Babylonian, and one Gnostic -(Abraxas) from an early Christian heresy. According to scholars, the text also invokes words that were considered powerful in ancient Jewish tradition.

The tablet was placed in a room, likely that used by Iennys in some capacity, and was intended to prevent him from speaking against Kyrilla.

The notoriously pagan Roman people were very tolerant of religious diversity, their own religion borrowed from the Greeks. Rome was an integrated, melting-pot style society, similar to the United States of today.  Romans gladly permitted the practice of many religions in their republic and in the empire, with one notable exception -Christianity.

Christians were perceived as intolerant and potentially disloyal because of their refusal to acknowledge other gods or to worship their emperors. Until the reign of Constantine the Great, who legalized Christianity, and Theodosius who made Christianity the law of the empire, Christians faced persecution.

However, the Romans occasionally invoked the Christian God for their purposes, perhaps not fully understanding the exclusivity of his being.

The tablet is clear evidence of this.

The tablet is also evidence that Romans could be notoriously aggressive in their pursuit of their goals, ready to offer sacrifices to obtain what they called "pax deorum" the peace, or favor of their gods.

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