Aug 16

Not a "Raise Dead" Among Them

Mysterious magic scrolls and golden treasure are a staple of adventure games, but archaeologists in Serbia have found the real thing.

The site was once Viminacium, the provincial capitol of Moesia Superior and a military center in the Roman Empire. It lasted from the 1st century CE to about the 6th, when it was destroyed (again and finally) by invading Serbs. At its peak its population was probably around 40,000 making it one of the largest cities of the Empire and the world in its day.

Photograph: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

The scrolls are relatively tiny things,about the size of Starburst or Halls wrapper, made of silver and gold and found in the form of amulets. Exactly what they are is unclear, and any statements to the contrary is pure conjecture. They are written in the Greek alphabet but appear to be Aramaic. In and of its self not that surprising a find given the spread of the Greek language during the conquest of Alexander and his successors.

The article says the names of Syrian demons are invoked, but I could not find out those names in my research. Given the location on a major Roman road (The Military Way) and the presence of large numbers of legionaries the fact that some of the residents had spent time in Roman Syria is almost to be expected.

Something to keep in mind: When we read the words "magic spell" what it really means is "prayer." Prior to the 1900s that is really all magical practices were and for the most part that is all they are today. Calling out for beings more powerful than yourself for aid, protection, or to harm your enemies? You have just described everything from the majority of the Psalms to the average locker room prayer at a high school football game.

What these prayers were for, and who was saying them, is unclear. Are the demons being invoked (called upon for service) or abjured (ordered to stay away)? Are they "demons" at all or is that interpretation a post-Christian understanding of who they might have been for the original inhabitants? Is the subject of the prayer the wearer or someone else? Were the amulets worn in life or only added in burial?

Ask questions. Never accept on face value what someone tells you about what someone else believes.

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