Friday, January 27, 2012

Fetus Magic and Sorcery Fears in Roman Egypt

Fetus Magic and Sorcery Fears in Roman Egypt

By David Frankfurter

Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, Vol.46 (2006)

Introduction: On May 22nd, in the year 197 CE, an élite young farmer in the village of Karanis, in the Egyptian Fayyum, one Gemellus Horion by name, presented a formal complaint to the Roman stratêgos "concerning the outrages perpetrated by" his neighbors. It seems that these neighbors had twice taken the harvest from Gemellus Horion's fields, three of them marching out in broad daylight and then launching some kind of sorcery or binding spell, to "surround [the victims] with malice," so that these neighbors could not be hindered in their robbery. And if it were not unusual enough for a formal complaint to revolve around an act of sorcery, what has especially intrigued papyrologists about the events Gemellus Horion describes are the means by which the binding spell was accomplished: not by burying a lead tablet somewhere, or leaving a bound poppet on his threshold, but by throwing a fetus  at the harvesters. Furthermore, these neighbors—one Julius, his wife, and a friend—not only performed this strange action once, but then retrieved the brephos and did it again, this time in front of a group of village elders. And it was effective, for nobody tried to stop Julius and his cronies from taking the harvest.

Click here to read this article from Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies