Forthcoming Publication: Defixiones and the Temple Locus: The Power of Place in the Curse Tablets at Mainz

This post is cross-posted from

I am happy to announce that my paper, “Defixiones and the Temple Locus: The Power of Place in the Curse Tablets at Mainz,” has been accepted for publication in the journal Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft (University of Pennsylvania Press)!

This paper is a direct result of a research project on cursing in antiquity that I undertook in 2014-2015.  This project looked at curses located in temple sites and what that might mean for understanding religious practices in the Roman Empire. My forthcoming paper looks specifically at the curse tablets form Mainz (Roman Mogontiacum), and argues that we need to consider cursing at this site as an religious activity akin to other forms of religious petitioning at the temple.

Here is the abstract:

Defixiones and the Temple Locus: The Power of Place in the Curse Tablets at Mainz

This paper surveys nineteen lead curse tablets from the sanctuary of Magna Mater and Isis in Mainz, Germany. Written in Latin, these tablets seek the divine help of Magna Mater and other deities in rectifying perceived injustices. When theorizing about cursing practices at the site, I argue that we need to look to the in situ context of the curse tablets and consider the other ritual deposits made at the sanctuary. Accounting for the co-presence of votary items alongside curse tablets can significantly aid our understanding of how the curse authors at Mainz viewed their practice. I argue that votive cult provides a compelling framework for understanding cursing at Mainz and the role of place in these materials. The curses at Mainz suggest that those who utilized cursing at the site made a strong connection between the figures petitioned in the curses and the physical site of the temple. The connection between the temple locus and cursing is illustrated by the uniformity of cursing rituals, the thematic content of the petitioners’ requests, and the sites of tablet deposition. Because of the close connection between votive cult and cursing at the site, I argue from the evidence supplied by the curse tablets examined here that we need to reconsider our formulation of cursing as a deviant or marginal religious practice and instead recognize all the ways that it fell within normative religious habits in Roman antiquity.

I look forward to updating when the article is out!

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