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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why you shouldn’t lie!

For me, one of the most interesting groups of finds from the sacred spring has to be the curse tablets. Unlike many texts remaining from the Roman period, these hold the words of ordinary citizens, and are a fascinating insight into the beliefs and superstitions of the local people.

Currently on display in the new cases in the King’s Bath corridor are several of these tablets, included one named ‘Sanction against perjury”. This is an almost-whole example, no more than 7.5cm by 5.5cm, inscribed with a text from a practiced hand.....

Sanction against perjury - BATRM1983.13.b.12

'Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son ans Docilina, Decentius his brother, Alogiosa: the names of those who have sworn at the spring of the goddess Sulis on the 12th April. Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.'

The majority of curses found in the spring concern theft, or similar loss. They range from a list of possible suspects with a call on the goddess to reveal the culprit, to bitter accusations against one person, and a desire for bloodthirsty punishment.

However, as the title suggests, this is a text of a different nature. Instead of detailing a past crime, it is a record of an oath sworn to prevent a future one. Witnessed by “Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son and Docilina, Decentinus his brother, Algiosa”, it states, “Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.”

Perjury is the crime of lying under oath; this and the fact that it is close relations who are listed means that the tablet probably concerned a family matter, most likely the division of inherited property. The language used is fairly formal, hinting at a legal-document style. These people believed in the goddess so much that they were willing to put legal matters at her feet, and their faith meant that they wouldn’t go against their word, for the imagined punishment would be severe. After all, who wants to “pay for it…in his own blood”?


Livi Dunlop - work experience placement in the Collections Department.

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