What is a Curse Tablet?

Just as ancient inhabitants used various methods to make their “dreams” or “wishes” come true, they also relied on curses to inflict harm upon another person. This is where the curse tablet came in, as it was a well-known approach used throughout the Greco-Roman World. During the process of using a curse tablet, individuals would ask the gods to harm a specified person. Usually, these texts were expressed on rather thing sheets of lead with miniscule letters scratched into the material. Nails were often folded, rolled, or pierced onto the tablet.


Once the curse was added to a bound tablet, it was generally placed under the ground , sometimes buried in a grave or tomb. Others would throw their tablets into pools or wells, separate them in underground locations, or attach them to temple walls of their choosing. Sometimes, the tablets had company, as “voodoo doll-like” figurines and other objects helped strengthen the curse. These dolls (which were also poked with nails) should not be confused with voodoo, but were nonetheless found by various tablets.


Not all curse tablets were fashioned from lead, even though most of them were found in this manner. Inhabitants of these days placed their curses on a wide range of materials spanning wood, papyrus, wax, and other materials that perished before archeologists had a chance to find them for analysis.


The most popular gods that people would refer to when writing their texts on curse tablets were Charon, Hermes, Hecate, and Persephone. Sometimes, they would call upon the help of the deceased, which was seen when tablets were stores in other graves. Some of the writings did not call upon the help of the gods all of the time, but would simply serve as a list of all the things they wish would happen to a specific person with an explanation as to why all of these things should take place. This would depend on the crimes or actions of the person in question, which would make the curse “valid.” Some curses asked that the person would encounter ill will within their life. Sometimes, the tablets were a list of names that would strengthen an oral curse someone had already placed. Many of these uncovered tablets dealt with seeking justice for something only the gods could punish.


For example, the curse tablets discovered at Athens made reference to various court cases and the curse involved the opposing party, where someone wronged asked for various demands. Some of the most common of these types of curses includes the wish that someone would perform poorly in court, forget their testimony, and maybe even undergo a dizzy spell. Researchers have also studied various erotic-binding spells; attempts to gain revenge against a thief; and wishing bad business or sporting performance upon rivals. At this time, the kind of curse tablet geared towards a thief and other criminals was more acceptable by the public and were often shared with others. This type of spell was also referred to as a “judicial prayer” at the time.


Throughout the years, many notable curse tablets have been found, including those deposited in England about the Temple of Mercury, as well as various specimens hailing ancient Egyptian times that date back to the 12th Dynasty.