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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Curses Condensed

Curse Tablets
‘Curse tablets’ are inscribed pieces of lead, usually in the form of small, thin sheets, intended to influence by supernatural means, the actions or welfare of persons or animals against their will. At Bath they mostly appeal to the goddess Minerva, although we do have one petition to Mars and another to Mercury.

In nearly all cases, both here and elsewhere, they appear to have been written in response to theft – here, most likely from the adjoining bath-house.

The Roman Baths has 137 curse tablets within the collection. They are described as being lead, but in most cases they have been made of lead alloy and are better described as pewter………

Of those 137…..

29 are written in capitals

80 are written in ‘cursive’, a script used for everyday documents and letters. Of these, 63 are written in Old Roman Cursive ORC and 17 are written in New Roman Cursive NRC (Indirectly NRC is the ancestor of the scripts used for present day handwriting in Europe.)

4 are written in illiterate texts - scratches made to imitate writing, or sometimes with no trace of writing at all.

5 tablets are un-inscribed.

7 tablets are still folded or otherwise illegible.

Between them all there are over 150 names mentioned.

2 are believed to have come from the same sheet of metal.

1 shows evidence of being copied.

1 could possibly have been written by someone with dyslexia.

Some are double sided, some have nail holes, some have been folded and some have not…….

The very writing of curses was manipulated for magical effect. Letters could be written in mirror-image form or the order of letters in a word, the words in a line, or lines in a text might be reversed. They are mostly written as one long continuous text without abbreviations. The writer might also change the direction in which words or letters were written in alternating lines.

Important comparative sites

Brean Down

For a nice compact website on curses in general please follow this link http://curses.csad.ox.ac.uk/beginners/

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

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