A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester have unearthed what they claim is the world’s oldest curse.
The 1,700-year-old curse tablet asks god Maglus for invoking his wrath on the thief who has stolen the cloak of Servandus. The curse states that the person who committed the theft dies before the ninth day.
“To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus (etc.) ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus,” says the ancient curse as translated by an Oxford University researcher.
The curse also states a list of the names of 18 or 19 suspects.
Richard Buckley, co-Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said the finding was important as before the discovery of this curse tablet, archaeologists only knew of the names of three or four of the inhabitants of Roman Leicester.
"Curse tablets are known from a number of Roman temple sites in Britain, and are thin rectangular sheets of lead bearing the 'curse' inscribed with a point or stylus. They were usually rolled up and were probably nailed to the wall of a temple or shrine. Most curses seem to relate to thefts and typically the chosen god is asked to do harm to the perpetrator. It has been suggested, on the basis of name forms and the value of items stolen, that the curses relate to the lives of ordinary people, rather than the wealthy, and that they were perhaps commissioned by the dedicator from a professional curse writer,” said Buckley.
"The Leicester curse is unusually well preserved and had not been rolled up. After initial cleaning by a conservator, it was clear that it was covered in handwritten script, including a column of text which looks rather like a list. The inscription is currently being translated by a specialist at the University of Oxford. He notes that the Latin of the script reflects the spoken language in several ways. There are 18 or 19 names, a mixture of commonplace Roman (like Silvester and Germanus), Celtic (like Riomandus and Cunovendus), and 'Roman' names found in Celtic-speaking provinces (like Regalis). The god's name might be a title - 'prince' in Celtic.
"The curse is a remarkable discovery, and at a stroke, dramatically increases the number of personal names known from Roman Leicester. So far, we have the soldier, Marcus Ulpius Novantico, from a military discharge certificate of AD 106, 'Verecunda' and Lucius' from a graffito on a piece of pottery and 'Primus' who inscribed his name on a tile he had made. The name forms will help us to understand the cultural make up of the population, whilst the subject matter tells us about the spread of spoken Latin and the religious practices of ordinary people," Buckley added.
The excavations have also produced many thousands of shards of pottery, together with building materials, animal bone and a large variety of smaller objects, including Roman weighing scales, coins, brooches, gaming pieces and hairpins.
Buckley said four large sites were excavated in 2005 and 2006 as part of the Highcross Quarter and Leicester Square Developments by a team of 60 archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services and the finding has given new insight into the appearance and development of the Roman and medieval towns around that time.