Abstract: Sorcery in the Soil: Finding Magic at Graeco-Roman Karanis in Egypt

We often imagine magic around every corner of the ancient village: old women who curl fingers around thumbs to avoid the evil eye, ill townspeople seeking out spells and cures from the local wise woman at the edge of town, or ne’er do-wells enchanting young girls with more than their good looks. Indeed, individuals in the ancient world frequently employed magic to achieve solutions to everyday problems as well as unusual crises. Situating magic in the local community proves a greater challenge. By integrating the study of archaeological objects, their contexts and documentary sources, it is possible to reconstruct and understand magic rituals as part of a lived environment. This lecture will focus on archaeological evidence from the Graeco-Roman site of Karanis in Egypt to identify and interpret two groups of magical objects: a burned figurine intended to compel the love of a victim, and a cache of painted bones deposited for mysterious reasons.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Frankfurter, David. 1998. Religion in Roman Egypt: assimilation and resistance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gazda, Elaine K., and Terry G. Wilfong. 2004. Karanis, an Egyptian town in Roman times: discoveries of the University of Michigan expedition to Egypt (1924-1935), Kelsey Museum Publication 1. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Graf, Fritz. 1997. Magic in the ancient world. Translated by P. Franklin, Revealing Antiquity, 10. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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