Ancient Witchcraft and the Spell of the Pella Curse Tablet
In the first half of the 4th century someone wrote a text in Doric Greek idiom. This text became known as the Pella curse tablet. Over the centuries, it became a key object in the argument supporting the theory that the ancient Macedonian language was created by the Doric dialect and one of North-Western Greek. It is also considered as one of the magical texts of ancient Greece.
The text was discovered in Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia and was probably created between 375 and 350 BC. It was a period when Amyntas III, Alexander II, Perdiccas III, and Phillip II ruled the growing empire. The ancient Greeks believed in a number of deities and they were aware of the powers of nature. With these beliefs in mind, they also liked to use magic for their own purposes. Apart from oracles, spells were valued in ancient Greek society as well.
Most of the known curse tablets were written in Greek. There are about 1,600 tablets that have been discovered in this language. The Pella curse tablet is one example of these texts from ancient times.
Curse tablets, also known as binding tablets, were very popular in Greece. They were seen as a way to ask spirits, gods, and goddesses for support or to do away with a person or a problem. Ancient Greeks used herbs and fire to make their spells stronger. However, many spells were also created with stones or baked clay to make them survive for many years. These kind of spells were called katadesmoi or defixiones, and it was believed that they would work as long as the text existed.
Curse Tablet found in London. Inscription reads: "I curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed, nor be able." (Translation: British Museum). (Public Domain)
A Curse from Pella
There are many translations of the text on the Pella curse tablet. The inscription is available on the internet, so any person who knows ancient Greek may try to read it. According to a specialist in this field, James L. O’ Neil from the University of Sydney, the translation of the ancient text is:
''I forbid by writing the ceremony and the marriage of Dionysophon and Thetima, and of all other women, and widows and virgins, but especially Thetima, and I assign them to Makron and the daimones. And whenever I shall unroll and read this again, after digging it up, then Dionysophon may marry, but not before. May he not take any wife but me, and may I and no other woman grow old with Dionysophon. I am your suppliant; pity me. dear daimones, for I am weak and bereft of all friends. But protect me so this does not happen and evil Thetima will perish evilly, [undecipherable] mine, but may I be fortunate and blessed, [undecipherable].''
The Pella Curse Tablet. (Public Domain)
The Pella curse tablet calls on the divine powers to solve the author’s problem. The author of this curse was a woman named Dagina. Her beloved, Dionyspohon, was about to marry a woman named Thetima, but Dagina didn't want him to do this. She asked the deities to make Dionysophon marry her, not Thetima. She also requested that her beloved be unable to marry any other woman. She only wanted him for herself.
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An analysis of her actions suggests that Dagina could be called an ancient Greek witch. Following this idea, she would be one of the earliest known witches in ancient Greece.
A Linguistic Surprise
Dagina believed in magic and her vocabulary suggests that that she was from Western Greece. It also appears that she may have been a part of the lower-class in Pella. The curse tablet cannot be compared to the royal texts of ancient Macedonia but it is an important example of the language that was used by less wealthy people of the time.
According to a specialist in ancient Greek languages, the Pella curse tablet is one of four texts which have been found representing the local dialect from Macedonia. It confirms that Doric Greek was used in this area and became a basis for the Ancient Macedonian language. James L. O'Neil believes that the tablet shows word forms which are Doric but very different from other forms of the Doric dialect in other parts of the Hellad.
Other existing inscriptions in the same language also prove that the Doric dialect was known in Macedon, and suggest that Macedonian words were taken from this language. Many of the Macedonian inscriptions were created in the Koine language, but it seems that people spoke and wrote less official documents in Doric.
A Macedonian Inscription, 4th century BC. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Pella curse tablet became one of the strongest pieces of evidence to support the theory that ancient Macedonian language grew from North-Western Greek, including Aetolian, Epirote, Phocidian, Locrian, etc. Due to the modern political problems between Greece and Macedonia (FYROM), ancient historians, linguistic specialists, and archaeologists looked into the origins of both. Research has also proven that the roots of the Macedonian language don't come from Thessalonian.
The importance of the Pella curse tablet also relates to the content of the written text itself. The script of the curse shows the concerns and interests of people who lived centuries ago. Most of the texts on curse tablets were created by people who were desperate, frustrated, and felt they couldn't find any other way to solve their problems.
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Ancient Curses for Many Purposes
Curse tablets were also known in other ancient cultures such as the Egyptian and Roman societies. In Ancient Greece, different types of curses were known. Many of them were created to discourage people who wanted to commit a crime or hurt others. They were created to protect the victims and possible victims.
The most popular types of curses, however, were those made for lawsuits, love spells, theatrical curses, and trade curses. They were always connected to religion, but the deity dedicated to the spell was related to the polis region, where the spell was created.
Pella leaded tablet (katadesmoi) 4th Century. (Public Domain)
Curses and spells in ancient times were used by most of the kings, queens, and other nobles. However, most people wanted to have a magical bond between them and unknown powers, who they believed could make their lives better.
Top image: Witch of Endor by Nikolai Ge, 1857. Source: Public Domain
Marco Fantuzzi, Richard L. Hunter, Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry, 2004
Ancient Greek Curse Tablets by Christopher A. Faraone, available from:
Curses and curse tablets, available from:
Scientific Analysis of the Pella Curse Tablet by James L. O’Neil, (University of Sydney), available from:
Love Charms In Their Social Context, available from: