Curse tablet from Roman Britain. (Image Courtesy the British Museum)

The act of cursing, the intent to harm a specific target, offers a unique entry point to beliefs and practices in ancient history.

Curses tell us much about the concerns of the people who utilized them and reveal how ancient communities delineated and reinforced their identities and values. Far from being marginal oddities, curses were practiced by a broad spectrum of the population in antiquity.

Cursing could be used to retain the affections of a lover, sway the outcome of a sporting match, or even mark the presence of divine power in a human emissary. They were found in a diverse array of literature and media, such as lead tablets, royal inscriptions, and in polytheistic literatures and Biblical sources. Ancient Curses is tasked with sorting through the contexts, constructions, and conflicts that the act of cursing was enmeshed in.

What is Ancient Curses?

Ancient Curses is compiled by Sarah Veale (University of Toronto). The site acts as a companion to her current research on curses, as well as a broader resource for the scholarly community. A constant work-in-progress, it aims to provide information and resources about cursing in antiquity. Some of the topics you may find include:

  • Curse tablets (defixiones or katadesmoi).
  • Curses in ancient and Biblical literature.
  • Bibliographies related to the study of curses in antiquity.
  • Online resources for further study.

For the most recent updates and in-depth curse analysis, please see the blog on this site.