Evidence Suggests an Underground of Roman Sorcery in Pompeii
Pompeii is one of the world’s most remarkable archaeological sites and this mysterious find has just been announced by Massimo Osanna, the director of the Pompeii site.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the items were found “hidden in a room in the Casa del Giardino, or House of the Garden”. This is in Section V of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, which is in southern Italy.
The treasure trove’s mysterious objects were once stored in a wooden box. This has disintegrated and only its bronze handles remain. The objects were found close to an inscription which is challenging beliefs about the date of the volcanic eruption that devasted Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae.
The treasure trove of Roman sorcery objects had been stored in a wooden box. (Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use)
Some 30,000 people perished in the disaster. The flow of ash, pumice, and hot mud buried the city and preserved it until it was re-discovered in the 18th century.
Were the Mysterious Objects Used in Roman Sorcery?
The objects found were as diverse as they are mysterious. Archaeologists discovered items made of crystal, clay, and semi-precious stones such as amber. The BBC reports that “Scarabs (beetle-shaped amulets) from the Middle East were identified” by the archaeologists.
A glass bead that had been shaped to represent Dionysus, the Roman god of ecstasy, wine, and fertility was also discovered. According to the Daily Telegraph, also found were objects that had been fashioned into “amulets, dolls, bells, fists, a tiny skull, and even miniature penises” and also some tiny bells.
A glass bead shaped to represent Dionysus; the Roman god was among the Roman sorcery artifacts. (Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use)
The find was made in what is believed to have been the quarters of the villa’s slaves or servants. Because there were no gold or precious items found with the hoard, it is believed that they belonged to a slave or a servant, rather than the family who owned the house. Presumably, if the trove had belonged to the householder the hoard would have contained more coins and valuables.
Mr Osanna explained in a press release:
"In the same house, we discovered a room with ten victims, including women and children, and now we are trying to establish kinship relationships, thanks to DNA analysis. Perhaps the precious box belonged to one of these victims. Interesting is the iconography of objects and amulets, which invoke fortune, fertility and protection against bad luck. And the numerous pendants in the shape of small phallus, or the ear, the closed fist, the skull, the figure of Harpocrates, the scarabs. Symbols and iconographies that are now being studied to understand their meaning and function."
Good Luck Charms and Spells
Experts have been examining the treasure trove and in particular the items iconography. They have established that many were related to good luck, charms, and warding off evil spirits.
For example, the tiny bells found were probably used to scare away evil spirits. However, some of the objects were not only used for good luck but possibly used in the practice of magic.
Tiny bells were used to scare away evil spirits in Roman sorcery. (Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use)
The Daily Telegraph reports that they may have been used “in rituals linked to fertility, seduction, childbirth, and marriage”. These would have been done in private because even though magic was widespread in the Roman world, it was not socially acceptable. The director of the Pompeii site is quoted by the Daily Mail as stating that the objects “could have been necklaces that were worn during rituals rather than being used to look elegant”.
A Sorceress in Pompeii?
The nature of the objects could indicate that the hoard belonged to a sorcerer or magician. They may have belonged to a female slave or servant, based on the fact that some of the items are related to childbirth and fertility.
It is possible that the items belonged to one of the women who was found dead in the house in earlier digs. However, it should be noted that there is no conclusive evidence that the items were used in sorcery and magic.
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The nature of the objects could indicate that they were used in Roman sorcery. (Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use)
Mr. Osanna said in the press release that, "They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories, biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption."
It is believed that the treasure trove is one of the largest discoveries of its kind.
The mysterious items offer an amazing insight into the everyday life of poorer Romans. They also add to the body of evidence that magic and charms played a very important role in their society.
The mysterious items offer insight into Pompeii’s society of Roman sorcery. (Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use)
Top image: Trove of jewels and charms found at Pompeii may have been used for Roman sorcery. Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii / Fair Use.
By Ed Whelan