An engraving on a 1500-year-old lead tablet discovered in the ruins of a theatre in Israel has finally been deciphered, revealing an ancient curse.
The curse, written in Ancient Greek, calls upon various demons to inflict harm on a dancer named Manna, who is thought to have performed at the theatre.
“Tie the feet together, hinder the dance of Manna,” the tablet reads, according to a translation by Attilio Mastrocinque, professor of Roman history at the University of Verona.
“Bind down the eyes, the hands, the feet, which should be slack for Manna when he will dance in the theatre…”
The theatre in which the tablet was found is located in the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima – now in ruins – on the coast of the Mediterranean.
It was prestigious in its day, having been built by Herod the Great.
The winner of a dance competition taking place at the theatre would have been awarded a considerable prize, not to mention the fame and reputation that were at stake.
It is thought that Manna was a famous dancer, and that the curse was written by a rival from a warring faction, who hoped to beat him in the competition, Live Science reports .
The opponent asks for the assistance of several gods including Thoth, an ancient Egyptian god of magic and wisdom.
He also calls upon “demons of the sky, demons of the air, demons of the earth, underworld demons, demons of the sea, of the rivers, demons of the springs,” to hurt Manna.
“Twist, darken, bind down, bind down together the eyes,” the inscription says.
“He should move slowly and lose his equilibrium” and “he should be bent and unseemly.”
The curse tablet was discovered by an Italian archaeological team sometime between 1949 and 1954, but the inscription was difficult to make out.
It was only recently that Mastrocinque deciphered it, using a method called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).
This involves taking numerous photographs from different lighting angles and combining them to create an enhanced image.
The inscription is lengthy, containing 110 lines. Mastrocinque’s translation is published in the book Studies in Honour of Roger S.O. Tomlin .
The tablet is thought to date back to the sixth century, a time when the Byzantine Empire controlled the city.
While Christianity was the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, that didn’t stop the use of curse tablets naming Thoth and other “pagan” gods.
“This [curse tablet] … confirms that the Christianisation of the Roman Empire did not stop the maleficent magical arts,” Mastrocinque wrote.
“On the contrary, these increasingly spread and became more sophisticated.”
The tablet is now in the Archaeological Museum of Milan.