Sunday, September 02, 2012

Unique Roman prayer tablet goes on display

The 1994 excavations at the Roman villa site at West Deeping produced a wealth of information about life in late Roman Lincolnshire.  Two of the most intriguing finds were two small pieces of rolled lead.  When unrolled in the laboratory, one turned out to be blank but the other contained something unique and fascinating.

Excavations at Roman temple sites have produced many similar tablets.  They often contain handwritten prayers to the gods, or curses against those who have wronged the author.  Curse tablets are known as 'defixio', prayer tablets as 'phylacteries'.  As this one specifically relates to pregnancy, it is a 'uterine phylactery'.

Although found at a villa site rather than a temple, the thirteen lines of handwritten Latin scratched onto the surface of the West Deeping tablet contain a prayer intended to protect a pregnant loved one.  The inscription is fragmentary, but Roman writing expert Roger Tomlin has been able to translate it as: