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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

The Curse Tablets

The Curse Tablets - Roman Baths (Bath)

The Curse Tablets

The Roman Baths complex is a site of a well-preserved ancient Roman public with four main parts to the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, and the museum, holding finds from Roman Bath. Many objects were thrown into the Sacred Spring as offerings to the goddess, including  “Curse Tablets.” The Curse Tablets contained messages inscribed on sheets of lead or pewter, which were then rolled up and thrown into the Spring, where the spirit of the goddess dwelt. The Roman Baths have a collection of Roman curse tablets, which include Britain’s earliest prayers.

The picture above has a sample of three curses written for the Goddess. From left to right, the curses include:

  • Lovernisca complains to the Goddess that her cape has been stolen.
  • A complaint about the theft of a woman called Vilbia, probably a slave.
  • A complaint about the theft of a cloak and tunic.

A theft was always a risk in public baths. A slave was required to watch over the expensive clothes as visiting the Baths was a social occasion and required one’s good clothes. When a culprit was unknown, a list of suspects was sometimes submitted to the Goddess, to help find the thief.

The first shrine at the site of the hot springs at Bath was built by Celts and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, leading to the town’s Roman name of Aquae Sulis “the waters of Sulis.” The temple was constructed in 60–70 AD, and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years.

Roman Public baths originated from a communal need for cleanliness. The health benefits of the hot springs at a time were significant at a time when most houses did not have access to private bathing facilities. In ancient times public bathing included saunas, massages, and relaxation therapies. Public baths were restricted depending on social rank and wealth and became incorporated into the social system as meeting places.

The Curse Tablets

  • Title:               The Curse Tablets
  • Medium:         sheets of lead or pewter
  • Date:              76 AD
  • Museum:        Roman Baths Museum

A Tour of the Roman Baths

Reflections

  • Are curses still a thing?

Explore London’s Museums and Heritage Sites

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“Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

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Photo Credit: JOM

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