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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Six of the Best

Following on from ‘The Curses Condensed’, here is an up-close and personal look at six of the curses from the collection. The main text source and all of the transcriptions and line drawings have come from Roger Tomlin’s work on the curses in Cunliffe, B. (ed.), 1988, The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath Volume II : The Finds from the Sacred Spring, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph No 16

1. Celtic curse - BATRM1983.13.b.118



List of names

Celtic text written down in Latin letters

It is likely that British was only a spoken language and therefore in writing, people would have used Latin letters, i.e. an attempt to write British sounds in Latin letters.



2. Theft of a woman’s cape – BATRM1983.13.b.27


‘Lovernisca [gives] him who, whether [man] or woman, whether boy or girl, has stolen (her) cape.’

Written from right to left in mirror-image cursive, the letters are unevenly spaced and sometimes distorted.

Did you know ?

Lovernisca is a female ‘Celtic’ name that means vixen.



3. Theft of a bathing tunic – BATRM1983.13.b.157


‘To the goddess Sulis. If anyone has stolen the bathing tunic of Cantissena, whether slave or free,…’

This curse relates to the theft of a bathing tunic, sneaky thieves or did someone just forget to pack their swimming costume?


4. ABC…… - BATRM1983.13.b.110


‘A B C D E F X’

Part of the alphabet, A-F. Was the X added at the end for magical significance?

Did you know ?

Alphabets and part-alphabets were commonly found as graffiti?



5. Theft of VILBIA – BATRM1983.14.b.1


‘May he who has stolen VILBIA from me become as liquid as water. who has stolen it [or her]. Velvinna, Exsupereus, Verianus, Severinus, A(u)gustalis, Comitianus, Minianus, Catus, Germanilla, Jovina.’

This tablet is also known as the ‘Bath Curse’. It was found on site in 1880, during Major Davis’s excavations of the Sacred Spring. Although written conventionally (left to right), several of the letters within this piece of text have been reversed.
This curse tablet alludes to a more serious theft - the theft of a woman (perhaps a slave) named Vilbia.



6.Theft of a rug – BATRM1983.13.b.113

‘…the rug which I have lost,…(his) life…has stolen…unless with his own blood.’

The text on this tablet is mixed and needs to be treated as a series of anagrams to be deciphered. Rather than being a secret cryptic text, it would seem that the writer suffered from dyslexia and got his letters muddled up.



For the full inside story on the featured curses and more read:

Tomlin, R.S.O., 1988 ‘The curse tablets’ in Cunliffe (ed.) 1988.

Tomlin, R.S.O., 1992 ‘Voices from the Sacred Spring’ in Bath History Volume IV, Millstream Books


The ‘Celtic Curse’ features as one of Bath in 100 Objects more information can be found at http://visitbath.co.uk/site/100-objects

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