ANCIENT ROMAN SUPERSTITIONS, OMENS, DIVINATION, MAGIC AND CURSES

SUPERSTITIONS IN ANCIENT ROME


magic hand

Like the Greeks, the Romans were very superstitious. Headaches they believed could be cured by taking an herb found growing near the heads of statues and wrapping them around one's neck. Inscribed tablets of lead and clay were buried to bring gamblers good luck at the hippodrome and lovers success in their pursuits. Caesar feared dreams.

Haruspicy, the study of a the liver of a sacrificed animal, was widely practiced in Rome. The liver was mapped out and read like a palm. Parents hung penis-shaped amulets around the necks of their children to ward off the evil eye. Grit left in wine goblets was read for fortunes. The word "fortune” comes from the Latin word fortuna. Fortuna was the goddess of wisdom, prophecy and the dead. She was also known as Lady Luck.

The expression “getting up on the wrong side of the bed” supposedly evolved from getting up on the "right side”, which in turn grew out the Roman belief that the left side was evil. The the Latin word for "left" is “sinister” and first "footmen" were hired by Roman nobles to makes sure guests entered their houses right foot first.According to some sources, breaking a mirror was considered bad luck as early as the first century AD in Rome, where Romans believed that mirrors could be used to tell fortunes and breaking them brought the bad luck, which lasted for seven years because that was how long it took for the body to rejuvenate. [People's Almanac]

Andrew Handley wrote for Listverse: “In ancient Rome left-handed people were considered unlucky and untrustworthy. The word sinister actually comes from the original Latin meaning for left, and over time the negativity associated with left-handed people pushed the meaning more towards evil. Interestingly enough, left-handed gladiators were treated like special bonuses—left-handed people used different fighting styles, so it made the combat more interesting and varied. [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013 <=>]

“One of the first recorded examples of a UFO actually came from Rome, although most people tend to think of them as a modern phenomena. In 218 B.C., a written account reports that a fleet of gleaming ships appeared to be floating in the sky of Rome. That wasn’t the only one, either—in A.D. 150 a report from an area right outside of Rome described “a beast like a piece of pottery about one hundred feet in size, multicolored on top and shooting out fiery rays, landed in a dust cloud.”


The Romans believed that each of the twelve Zodiac sign controlled a different part of the body. The planets Mars and Venus were given the character of the gods they were named after. On fortunetellers, Pliny the Elder wrote: "this most fraudulent of arts has held complete sway throughout the world for many years. Nobody should be surprised at the greatness of its influence . . . There is no one who does not fear being spellbound by curse tablets.”

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “In Matthew's gospel, Jesus' birth is heralded by the heavenly portent of a star rising in the East....In all of the gospels Jesus performs numerous healings, and on several occasions he even brings the dead back to life...Although all of these religious claims seem remarkable to the modern reader, none of them would have astounded the average citizen of the early Roman empire. Stories of heavenly portents, miraculous healings, mystical visions, and even resurrections were told about a number of demi-gods or heroes. In fact, a number of supernatural phenomena were even attributed to certain philosophers and emperors.” [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. <>]

Famed Greek oracles like the one in Delphi were still active the Roman era. See Separate Article on Oracles Under Ancient Greece.

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Etruscan Bird and Chicken Folk Beliefs

The Etruscans believed that the will of the gods was manifested through signs in the natural world. The patterns made by flying bird were read for auspicious signs. The word auspicious was originally used to describe a favorable flight of birds. Lightning and thunder were read for symbols of good and bad luck. The future was divined by observing the direction of thunderbolts. Roman leaders called on Etruscan soothsayers to direct lighting bolts at the Visigoths.

The custom of breaking a wishbone (the Y-shaped clavicle of a fowl) with a secret wish going to person with the bigger piece has been dated to Etruria in 400 B.C. The Etruscans believed that chickens were soothsayers because they foretold the laying of an egg with a squawk.

When the sacred hen died, its bones were dried and the clavicle was stroked before making a wish and thus became known as the wishbone. The clavicle was selected over other bones because its Y-shape had some symbolic meaning. The customs of breaking it for a wish developed in Roman times partly as the result of to many people fighting over one bone.

According to the Etruscan a "hen oracle," a circle was drawn on the ground with 20 parts, corresponding to letters in the Etruscan alphabet, with pieces of grain in each sector. A sacred chicken was placed in the middle and foretold the future by forming the letters for words by pecking at the grain in the letter's sector.

Liver Divination Among the Etruscans


priest practcing augury

The Etruscans used haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future. Etruscan fortunetellers were famed for their liver reading skills. After a sacrifice the body was opened up and the liver was examined. The liver was divided into region which correspond with the constellations in the sky. The right side denoted good luck and the left side, bad luck. A bronze liver unearthed by archaeologists at Piacenza was divided into forty regions, each marked with name of a different god. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

A 2nd century B.C. bronze model of a sheep's liver, divided into 16 regions corresponding to sections of the heavens and names of deities, found near Piacenza in 1877. It shows the chief parts of the liver and is covered with Etruscan characters, which furnish for the most part names of deities. The model was probably used for purposes of instruction in the Etruscan system of hepatoscopy—just like a similar Babylonian model.

Historian Morris Jastrow said: “Among the Etruscans we...find liver divination not only occupying an important position in the official cult, but becoming a part of it. As a companion piece to the Babylonian model of a sheep’s liver, we have a bronze model, found” in 1877 “near Piacenza in Italy, which, covered with Etruscan characters, shows almost the same general design as the Babylonian model. This Etruscan model, dating probably from the third century B.C., but taking us back to a prototype that may be considerably older, served precisely the same purpose as its Babylonian counterpart: namely, to explain liver divination to the young haruspices of Etruria. The importance of this form of divination is illustrated by other Etruscan antiquities, such as the tomb of an haruspex, who holds in his left hand a liver as the sign-manual of his profession. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

Organ Divination Among the Greeks and Romans

Liver divination was very big among the Babylonians and other Mesopotamians. Greeks and Romans took it a step further by bringing in other organs. Morris Jastrow said: Liver divination in “passing to the Greeks and Romans, underwent an important modification which was destined eventually to bring the practice into disrepute. It will be recalled that the entire system of hepatoscopy rested on the belief that the liver was the seat of the soul, and that this theoretical basis was consistently maintained in Babylonia and Assyria throughout all periods of the history of these two states. ...The existence of an elaborate system of divination...acted, with the Babylonians, as a firm bulwark against the introduction of any rival theory. Not so, however, among the Romans, whose augurs took what seemed an innocent and logical step, in order to bring the system of divination into accord with more advanced anatomy, by adding to the examination of the liver that of the heart, as being likewise an organ through which an insight could be obtained into the soul of the animal, and hence into that of the god to whom it was sacrificed. Pliny has an interesting passage in his Natural History in which he specifies the occasion when, for the first time, the heart in addition to the liver of the sacrificial animal was inspected to secure an omen. The implication in the passage of Pliny is that prior to this date, which corresponds to c. 274 B.C., the liver alone was used. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]


sheep live bile ducts

“Liver and heart continued to be, from this time on, the chief organs inspected, but occasionally the lungs also were examined, and even the spleen and the kidneys. Owing to the growing habit of inspecting other organs beside the liver, it became customary to speak of consulting the exta —a term which included all these organs. Similarly, we may conclude from the use of the terms splangchna (“entrails”) and hiera (“sacred parts”) in Greek writers, when referring to divination through the sacrificial animal, that among the Greeks also, who as little as the Romans were restrained by any force of ancient tradition, the basis on which hepatoscopy rested was shifted, in deference to a more scientific theory of anatomy which dethroned the liver from its position in primitive and non-scientific beliefs. This step, though apparently progressive, was fatal to the rite, for in abandoning the belief that the liver was sole seat of the soul, the necessity for inspecting it in order to divine the future was lost. There could be but one claimant as the legitimate organ of divination. If the soul were not in the liver but in the heart, then the heart should have been inspected, but to take both the liver and the heart, and to add to these even the lungs and other organs was to convert the entire rite into a groundless superstition—a survival in practice, based on an outgrown belief. <>

“It is significant that this step was not taken by the Babylonians or Assyrians nor, so far as we know, by the ancient Etruscans, but only by the Romans and the Greeks. That they did so may be taken as an additional indication that hepatoscopy among them was an importation, and not an indigenous growth. As a borrowed practice, the Greeks and Romans felt no pressure of tradition which in Babylonia kept the system of liver interpretation intact down to the latest days. A borrowed rite is always more liable to modification than one that is indigenous, as it were, and attached to the very soil; thus it happens that, under foreign influences, divination through the liver, resting upon deductions from a primitive belief persistently maintained, degenerates into a foolish superstition without reason. It is also an observation that has many parallels in the history of religion:—a borrowed rite is always more liable to abuse. It is not, therefore, surprising to find that the “inspection” of an animal for purposes of divination degenerated still further among Greeks and Romans into wilful deceit and trickery. <>

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Etruscan liver divining tool
“Frontinus and Polyaenus tell us of the way in which the “inspectors” of later days had recourse to base tricks to deceive the masses. They tell, for instance, of a certain augur, who, desirous of obtaining an omen that would encourage the army in a battle near at hand, wrote the words, “victory of the king,” backwards on the palm of his hand, and then, having pressed the smooth surface of the sacrificial liver against his palm, held aloft to the astonished gaze of the multitude the organ bearing the miraculous omen. The augur’s name is given as Soudinos “the Chaldean,” but this epithet had become at this time, for reasons to be set forth in the next lecture, generic for soothsayers and tricksters, indiscriminately, without any implied reference to nationality. Hence Soudinos , who may very well have been a Greek, is called “the Chaldean.” <>

“Whatever the deficiencies of the Babylonian-Assyrian “inspectors” may have been, it must be allowed, from the knowledge transmitted to us, that down to the end of the neo-Babylonian empire they acted fairly, honestly, and conscientiously. The collections of omens and the official reports show that they by no means flattered their royal masters by favourable omens. It would have been, indeed, hazardous to do so; but whatever their motives, the fact remains that in the recorded liver examinations we find unfavourable conclusions quite as frequently as favourable. In a large number of reports delivered by the priests there seems nothing, so long as the religion itself held sway, to warrant a suspicion of trickery or fraud of any kind. At most, we may possibly here and there detect a not unnatural eagerness on the part of a diviner to justify his conclusion, or to tone down a highly inauspicious prognostication.” <>

Etruscans and Greek Sacrifices and Roman Liver Divination


The Etruscans, like the ancient Babylonians, practiced liver divination and they are believed to have passed on the practice to the Romans and influenced ritual practices of the Greeks. Historian Morris Jastrow said: ““Through the Etruscans hepatoscopy came to the Romans, and it is significant that down through the days of the Roman Republic the official augurs were generally Etruscans, as Cicero and other writers expressly tell us.The references to liver divination are numerous in Latin writers, and although the term used by them is a more general one, exta ,—usually rendered “entrails,”—when we come to examine the passages, we find, in almost all cases, the omen specified is a sign noted on the liver of a sacrificial animal. So Livy, Valerius Maximus, Pliny, and Plutarch unite in recording that when the omens were taken shortly before the death of Marcellus, during the war against Hannibal, the liver of the sacrificial animal had no processus pyramidalis, which was regarded as an unfavourable sign, presaging the death of the Roman general. Pliny specifies a large number of historical occasions when forecasts were made by the augurs, and almost all his illustrations are concerned with signs observed on the liver. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“The same is the case with the numerous references to divination through sacrificial animals found in Greek writers; for the Greeks and Romans alike resorted to this form of divination on all occasions. In Greek, too, the term applied to such divination is a general one, hiera or hiereia , the “sacred parts,” but the specific examples in every instance deal with signs on the liver. Thus, e.g., in the Electra of Euripides, Ægisthos, when surprised by Orestes, is represented in the act of examining the liver of an ox sacrificed on a festive occasion. Holding the liver in his hand, Ægisthos observes that “there was no lobe,and that the gate and the gall-bladder portended evil.” While Ægisthos is thus occupied, Orestes steals upon him from behind and deals the fatal blow. Æschylus, in the eloquent passage in which the Chorus describes the many benefits conferred on mankind by the unhappy Prometheus, ascribes to the Titan the art also of divination, but while using the general term, the liver is specified: ‘The smoothness of the entrails, and what the colour is, whether portending good fortune, and the multi-coloured well-formed gallbladder.’ <>

“Whether or not the Greeks adopted this system of hepatoscopy through the influence likewise of the Etruscans, or whether or not it was due to more direct contact with Babylonian-Assyrian culture is an open question. The eastern origin of the Etruscans is now generally admitted, and it may well be that in the course of their migration westward they came in contact with settlements in Greece; but on the other hand, the close affiliation between Greece and Asia Minor furnishes a stronger presumption in favour of the more direct contact with the Babylonian system through its spread among Hittite settlements.

Witches and Sorcery in Ancient Rome

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consultation with a witch
The impression one gets from ancient Roman literary texts is that there were professional witches working in Rome. In his novel “Metamorphoses” the A.D. 2nd century author Apuleius wrote: “First she arranged the deadly laboratory with its customary apparatus, setting out spices of all sorts, unintelligibly lettered metal plaques, the remains of ill-omened birds, and numerous pieces of mourned and even buried corpses: here noses and fingers, there flesh-covered spikes from crucified bodies; elsewhere they preserved gore or murder victims and mutilated skulls wrenched from the teeth of wild beasts. Then she recited a charm over some pulsating entrails and made offerings with various liquids . . . next she bound and knotted those hairs together in interlocking braids and put them to burn on live coals along with several kinds of incense."

Romans believed in the evil eye, sex-changes, the power of iron and menstrual blood and the evil nature of odd numbers. Sorcerers used a ouija board-like bronze table with symbols that were pointed to a ring hanging from a thread. Apuleius, author of the Golden Ass, a book about magic, was tried in court for bewitching his wife, a wealthy widow. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Archaeologists have found Roman voodoo dolls in lead canisters. Most magic, it seems, was oriented towards cursing people or compelling them to fall in love.

2,000-Year-Old Book of Spells Found in Roman Serbia

In 2016, archaeologists announced they had discovered what they believe is a 2,000-year-old book of "spells", etched onto tiny rolls of gold and silver, in a grave alongside skeletons in northeastern Serbia. The archaeologists had difficulty deciphering the language on the scrolls, and were not sure if the spells were intended for good or for evil. “"We read the names of a few demons that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria," archaeologist Ilija Dankovic told Reuters. [Source: This Week, August 10, 2016]

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magic book
This Week reported: “The scrolls were discovered inside two lead amulets, and appear to have been similar in use to "binding magic" practiced in other cultures. Such charms were typically buried with people who had died violently because the "souls of such people took longer to find rest and had a better chance of finding demons and deities and pass the wishes to them so they could do their magic," Dankovic said.

“Binding magic could be used to make someone fall in love, but it could also be used for "dark, malignant curses, to the tune of 'May your body turn dead, as cold and heavy as this lead,'" Dankovic said. For the time being, the purpose of the spells remains a mystery and it may never be fully understood; while the alphabet is written in Greek letters, the language is Aramaic. "It's a Middle Eastern mystery to us,” Miomir Korac, the chief archaeologist at the site, told Reuters.”

Amulets

Hawkers sold amulets on the streets. There were specials amulets that invoked specific gods for almost every need. Among the bestsellers were amulets of the gods protecting babies: Wailer, Breast-feeder, Eater and Stander.

Romans wore phalluses as good luck charms. One of the good luck charms of ancient Rome was the phallus—a very Latin way to say erect penis. “There’s evidence that the phallic symbolism was a very integral part of Roman life. They wore phallus charms as necklaces, hung them in their doorways, and even made wind chimes to ward off evil spirits. Sometimes the phallus was embellished as well—those wind chimes have been found with the feet of a lion, the wings of a bird, and the head of, well, a penis. If someone hung that up in their house today, they’d probably be arrested as a sex offender.” [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013 <=>]

Curses in Ancient Rome

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magic spell
Cicero described one lawyer who forgot what he was supposed to say during an argument and blamed "spells and curses" for his troubles. Personal problems and government failures were also blamed on curses. Worried that his sex life might be cursed, the 1st century poet Ovid wrote: “was I a wretched victim of charms and herbs, or did a witch curse my name upon a red wax image and stick the pins in the middle of the liver?”.

Recording what was found after the death of Germanicus, grandson of Augustus and heir of the Emperor Tiberius, in A.D. 19, the historian Tacitus wrote: “explorations of the floor and walls [of his house] brought to light the remains of human bodies, spells, curses, leaden tablets engraved with the name Germanicus, charred and blood-smeared vases, and others of the implements by which the living soul can be devoted to the powers of the grave." A woman named Martina was executed for murdering Germanicus and the Senator Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso and his wife Plancina, thought to have been behind the crime, were forced to commit suicide.

Jarrett A. Lobell wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The ancient Romans were a vindictive bunch. They regularly called on the gods to harm those they perceived had wronged them, sometimes recording their curses on thin lead tablets that were usually rolled up and deposited inside graves, temples, and shrines. While examining two such tablets recently rediscovered in the City Archaeological Museum of Bologna—their provenance is unknown—researcher Celia Sánchez Natalías of the University of Zaragoza in Spain found two particularly nasty examples. "Destroy, crush, kill, strangle Porcello and wife Maurilla. Their soul, heart, buttocks, liver..." says part of a tablet dating to the fourth or fifth century A.D. Sánchez Natalías believes this is a curse directed at a veterinarian and his wife, perhaps for the death of an animal. The second curse, one of the only known examples directed at a Roman senator, reads, "Crush, kill Fistus the senator.... May Fistus dilute, languish, sink, and may all his limbs be dissolved." One can only imagine what Fistus must have done to engender such vitriol. [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 5, September/October 2012

Curse Tablets in Ancient Rome

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Jews, Christians, Gauls and Britons all dispensed curse tablets used to placate "unquiet" graves and call up the spirits of the underworld to make trouble. [Source: Christopher A. Faraone, Archaeology, March/April 2003]

In the Roman empire fortunetellers placed elaborate curses on lead tablets called defixiones . The practice was so common that scribes were hired to copy form-letter curses from "magical" papyri and many fortunetellers who dispensed curses made money from breaking them. Curse tablets endured until they were prohibited by the Christian Church.


defixio Kardeelos Terme

Archaeologists have found hundreds of tablets with strange letters or the victim's name. The Greeks called them “curses that bind tight” and they appear to have invented them, with a great number focusing on sporting competitions or legal contests. The Latin term means “curses that fix or fasten someone.” “To make such a “binding spell," Christopher A. Faraone wrote in Archaeology magazine, “one would inscribe the victim's name and a formula on a lead tablet, fold it up, often pierce it with a nail, and then deposit it in a grave or a well or a fountain, placing it in the realm of ghosts or underworld divinities who might be asked to enforce the spell."

Curse tablets aimed at bringing misfortune to chariot racing teams have been found. One Roman-era curse tablet from Carthage read: "Bind the horses whose names and images on this implement I entrust you . . . Bind their running, their powers, their soul, their onrush, their speed. Take away their victory, entangle their feet, hinder them, hobble them, so that tomorrow morning in the hippodrome they are not able to run or walk about, or win, or go out of the starting gates, or advance either on the racecourse or track but they fall with their drivers." One aimed at a particular chariot team and driver that was buried with a rooster sacrifice went, “Just as this rooster has been bound by its feet, hands, and head, so bind the legs and hands and head and heart of Victoricus the charioteer of the Blue team, for tomorrow."

Curses were not always bad. Many were love spells. One from the A.D. fifth century read: "Grab Euphemia and lead her to me, Theon, loving me with frenzied love, and bind her with bonds that are unbreakable, strong and adamantine, so that she loves me, Theon, and do not allow her to eat, drink sleep or joke or laugh but make [her] rush out of every place and dwelling, abandon father, mother, brothers and sisters, until she comes to me, Theon, loving me, wanting me” with “unceasing and wild love. And if she holds someone else to her bosom, let her put him out, forget him, and hate him, but love, desire, and want me . . . Now, now. Quickly, quickly."

Book: Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World by John Gager, professor or religion at Princeton (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Curse Directed at a Greengrocer

In 2011, researchers announced that they had deciphered a curse inscribed on two sides of a thin lead tablet tablet that called on Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, god of the Old Testament, to strike down Babylas, a greengrocer selling fruits and vegetables in the city of Antioch in the A.D. 4th century. Written in Greek, the tablet with curse was dropped into a well in Antioch — part of southeast Turkey, near the border with Syria — when it was one of the Roman Empire's biggest cities in the East. The text was translated by Alexander Hollmann of the University of Washington. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, December 21, 2011 \=\]


Roman-era voodoo doll

Owen Jarus of Live Science wrote: “The artifact, which is now in the Princeton University Art Museum, was discovered in the 1930s by an archaeological team but had not previously been fully translated. The translation is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. "O thunder-and-lightning-hurling Iao, strike, bind, bind together Babylas the greengrocer," reads the beginning of one side of the curse tablet. "As you struck the chariot of Pharaoh, so strike his [Babylas'] offensiveness." \=\

“Hollmann told LiveScience that he has seen curses directed against gladiators and charioteers, among other occupations, but never a greengrocer. "There are other people who are named by occupation in some of the curse tablets, but I haven't come across a greengrocer before," he said. The person giving the curse isn't named, so scientists can only speculate as to what his motives were. "There are curses that relate to love affairs," Hollmann said. However, "this one doesn't have that kind of language." \=\

“It's possible the curse was the result of a business rivalry or dealing of some sort. "It's not a bad suggestion that it could be business related or trade related," said Hollmann, adding that the person doing the cursing could have been a greengrocer himself. If that's the case it would suggest that vegetable selling in the ancient world could be deeply competitive. "With any kind of tradesman they have their turf, they have their territory, they're susceptible to business rivalry.” \=\

“The name Babylas, used by a third-century Bishop of Antioch who was killed for his Christian beliefs, suggests the greengrocer may have been a Christian. "There is a very important Bishop of Antioch called Babylas who was one of the early martyrs," Hollmann said. The use of Old Testament biblical metaphors initially suggested to Hollmann the curse-writer was Jewish. After studying other ancient magical spells that use the metaphors, he realized that this may not be the case. "I don't think there's necessarily any connection with the Jewish community," he said. "Greek and Roman magic did incorporate Jewish texts sometimes without understanding them very well." \=\

“In addition to the use of Iao (Yahweh), and reference to the story of the Exodus, the curse tablet also mentions the story of Egypt's firstborn. “"O thunder—and-lightning-hurling Iao, as you cut down the firstborn of Egypt, cut down his [livestock?] as much as..." (The next part is lost.) "It could simply be that this [the Old Testament] is a powerful text, and magic likes to deal with powerful texts and powerful names," Hollmann said. "That's what makes magic work or make[s] people think it works." The lead curse tablet is very thin and could have been folded up.” \=\

Omens and Portents

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Roman historians such as Suetonius and Tacitus frequently reported the occurrence of miraculous omens or portents regarding the emperors, particularly at the beginning or end of their reigns. Because Rome placed its rulers at the summit of human society, it was believed that they served as mediators for the will of the gods on earth. Accordingly, the appearance of omens, for good or ill, was the means by which the gods could signal the working of their will in human affairs. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. <>]


augury

“After the death of Julius Caesar, Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars: Julius 88) reports that at the funeral games held in his honor "a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, which had been taken into heaven." But it was Julius Caesar's adopted son, the immensely popular and widely-revered emperor Augustus, who generated the most stories of this type. According to one story, Augustus's mother was worshipping in the temple of Apollo when she fell asleep and was impregnated by the god (Suetonius Lives of the Caesars: Augustus 94). Another story also attested to Augustus's unusually close relationship to Apollo, the god of prophecy, by crediting the emperor with having divined beforehand the outcome of all of his wars (Suetonius Lives of the Caesars: Augustus 96). <>

On Emperor Claudius I (10 B.C.- A.D. 54), Suetonius wrote: ““The principal omens of his death were the following: the rise of a long-haired star, commonly called a comet, the striking of his father Drusus' tomb by lightning; and the fact that many magistrates of all ranks had died that same year. There are, besides, some indications that he himself was not unaware of his approaching end, and that he made no secret of it; for when he was appointing the consuls, he made no appointment beyond the month when he died, and on his last appearance in the Senate, after earnestly exhorting his children to harmony, he begged the members to watch over the tender years of both; and in his last sitting on the tribunal he declared more than once that he had reached the end of a mortal career, although all who heard him prayed that the omen might be averted [The formula was "Di meliora diunt!" or "May the Gods grant better things!", i.e., "The Gods Forbid!"]. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

On events before Emperor Hadrian’s death, Aelius Spartianus wrote: ““About this time there came a certain woman, who said that she had been warned in a dream to coax Hadrian to refrain from killing himself, for he was destined to recover entirely, but that she had failed to do this and had become blind; she had nevertheless been ordered a second time to give the same message to Hadrian and to kiss his knees, and was assured of the recovery of her sight if she did so. The woman then carried out the command of the dream, and reeived her sight after she had bathed her eyes with the water in the temple from which she had come. Also a blind old man from Pannonia came to Hadrian when he was ill with fever, and touched him; whereupon the man received his sight, and the fever left Hadrian. All these things, however, Marius Maximus declares were done as a hoax.” [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Omens and Signs That the Assassination of Caesar Was Coming

Suetonius wrote: “Now Caesar's approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigor because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, inscribed with Greek words and characters to this purport: "Whenever the bones of Capys shall be moved, it will come to pass that a son of llium shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italia." And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]


Caesar's assassination

“Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubicon when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the Ides of March; and on the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Curia of Pompeius with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord. Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the senate; but at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour; and when a note revealing the plot was handed him by someone on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after several victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the Senate in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm; though Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

On these same events, Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Fate, however, is to all appearance more unavoidable than unexpected. For many strange prodigies and apparitions are said to have been observed shortly before the event. As to the lights in the heavens, the noises heard in the night, and the wild birds which perched in the forum, these are not perhaps worth taking notice of in so great a case as this. Strabo, the philosopher, tells us that a number of men were seen, looking as if they were heated through with fire, contending with each other; that a quantity of flame issued from the hand of a soldier’s servant, so that they who saw it thought he must be burnt, but that after all he had no hurt. As Cæsar was sacrificing, the victim’s heart was missing, a very bad omen, because no living creature can subsist without a heart. One finds it also related by many, that a soothsayer bade him prepare for some great danger on the ides of March. When the day was come, Cæsar, as he went to the senate, met this soothsayer, and said to him by way of raillery, “The ides of March are come;” who answered him calmly, “Yes, they are come, but they are not past.” The day before this assassination, he supped with Marcus Lepidus; and as he was signing some letters, according to his custom, as he reclined at table, there arose a question what sort of death was the best. At which he immediately, before any one could speak, said, “A sudden one.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“After this, as he was in bed with his wife, all the doors and windows of the house flew open together; he was startled at the noise, and the light which broke into the room, and sat up in his bed, where by the moonshine he perceived Calpurnia fast asleep, but heard her utter in her dream some indistinct words and inarticulate groans. She fancied at that time she was weeping over Cæsar, and holding him butchered in her arms. Others say this was not her dream, but that she dreamed that a pinnacle which the senate, as Livy relates, had ordered to be raised on Cæsar’s house by way of ornament and grandeur, was tumbling down, which was the occasion of her tears and ejaculations. When it was day, she begged of Cæsar, if it were possible, not to stir out, but to adjourn the senate to another time; and if he slighted her dreams, that he would be pleased to consult his fate by sacrifices, and other kinds of divination. Nor was he himself without some suspicion and fears; for he never before discovered any womanish superstition in Calpurnia, whom he now saw in such great alarm. Upon the report which the priests made to him, that they had killed several sacrifices, and still found them inauspicious, he resolved to send Antony to dismiss the senate.

Omens Associated with Augustus’s Birth and Early Life

Suetonius wrote: “On the very day of his birth, and afterwards, from which it was possible to anticipate and perceive his future greatness and uninterrupted good fortune. In ancient days, when a part of the wall of Velitrae had been struck by lightning, the prediction was made that a citizen of that town would one day rule the world. Through their confidence in this the people of Velitrae had at once made war on the Roman people and fought with them many times after that almost to their utter destruction; but at last long afterward the event proved that the omen had foretold the rule of Augustus. According to Julius Marathus, a few months before Augustus was born a portent was generally observed at Rome, which gave warning that nature was pregnant with a king for the Roman people; thereupon the Senate in consternation decreed that no male child born that year should be reared; but those whose wives were with child saw to it that the decree was not filed in the treasury, since each one appropriated the prediction to his own family. I have read the following story in the books of Asclepias of Mendes entitled Theologamena. When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colours like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum--Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars--The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]


Augustus

“In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo. Atia too, before she gave him birth, dreamed that her vitals were borne up to the stars and spread over the whole extent of land and sea, while Octavian dreamed that the sun rose from Atia's womb. The day he was born the conspiracy of Catiline was before the House, and Octavian came late because of his wife's confinement; then Publius Nigidius, as everyone knows, learning the reason for his tardiness and being informed also of the hour of the birth, declared that the ruler of the world had been born. Later, when Octavian was leading an army through remote parts of Thrace, and in the grove of Father Liber consulted the priests about his son with barbarian rites, they made the same prediction; since such a pillar of flame sprang forth from the wine that was poured over the altar, that it rose above the temple roof and mounted to the very sky, and such an omen had befallen no one save Alexander the Great when he offered sacrifice at the same altar. Moreover, the very next night he dreamt that his son appeared to him in a guise more majestic than that of mortal man, with the thunderbolt, sceptre, and insignia of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, wearing a crown begirt with rays and mounted upon a laurel-wreathed chariot drawn by twelve horses of surpassing whiteness. When Augustus was still an infant, as is recorded by the hand of Gaius Drusus, he was placed by his nurse at evening in his cradle on the ground floor and the next morning had disappeared; but after long search he was at last found lying on a lofty tower with his face towards the rising sun. As soon as he began to talk, it chanced that the frogs were making a great noise at his grandfather's country place; he bade them be silent, and they say that since then no frog has ever croaked there. As he was lunching in a grove at the fourth milestone on the Campanian road, an eagle surprised him by snatching his bread from his hand, and after flying to a great height, equally to his surprise dropped gently down again and gave it back to him.

“After Quintus Catulus had dedicated the Capitol, he had dreams on two nights in succession: first, that Jupiter Optimus Maximus called aside one of a number of boys of good family, who were playing around his altar, and put in the fold of his toga an image of Roma, which he was carrying in his hand; the next night he dreamt that he saw this same boy in the lap of Jupiter of the Capitol, and that when he had ordered that he be removed, the god warned him to desist, declaring that the boy was being reared to be the saviour of his country. When Catulus next day met Augustus, whom he had never seen before, he looked at him in great surprise and said that he was very like the boy of whom he had dreamed. Some give a different account of Catulus' first dream: when a large group of well-born children asked Jupiter for a guardian, he pointed out one of their number, to whom they were to refer all their wishes, and then, after lightly touching the boy's mouth with his fingers, laid them on his own lips. As Marcus Cicero was attending Gaius Caesar to the Capitol, he happened to tell his friends a dream of the night before---that a boy of noble countenance was let down from heaven on a golden chain and, standing at the door of the temple, was given a whip by Jupiter. Just then suddenly catching sight of Augustus, who was still unknown to the greater number of those present and had been brought to the ceremony by his uncle Caesar, he declared that he was the very one whose form had appeared to him in his dream.

Omens Associated with Augustus’s Political Career


lightning was considered an omen sent directly from the gods

Suetonius wrote: “When Augustus was assuming the gown of manhood, his senatorial tunic was ripped apart on both sides and fell at his feet, which some interpreted as a sure sign that the order of which the tunic was the badge would one day be brought to his feet. As the Deified Julius was cutting down a wood at Munda and preparing a place for his camp, coming across a palm tree, he caused it to be spared as an omen of victory. From this a shoot at once sprang forth and in a few days grew so great that it not only equalled the parent tree, but even overshadowed it; moreover many doves built their nests there, although that kind of bird especially avoids hard and rough foliage. Indeed, it was that omen in particular, they say, that led Caesar to wish that none other than his sister's grandson should be his successor. While in retirement at Apollonia, Augustus mounted with Agrippa to the studio of the astrologer Theogenes. Agrippa was the first to try his fortune, and when a great and almnst incredible career was predicted for him, Augustus persisted in concealing the time of his birth and in refusing to disclose it, through diffidence and fear that he might be found to be less eminent. When he at last gave it unwillingly and hesitatingly, and only after many urgent requests, Theogenes sprang up and threw himself at his feet. From that time on Augustus had such faith in his destiny, that he made his horoscope public and issued a silver coin stamped with the sign of the constellation Capricornus, under which he was born. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum--Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars--The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“As he was entering the city on his return from Apollonia after Caesar's death, though the heaven was clear and cloudless, a circle like a rainbow suddenly formed around the sun's disc, and straightway the tomb of Caesar's daughter Julia was struck by lightning. Again, as he was taking the auspices in his first consulship, twelve vultures appeared to him, as to Romulus, and when he slew the victims; the livers within all of them were found to be doubled inward at the lower end, which all those who were skilled in such matters unanimously declared to be an omen of a great and happy future.

“He even divined beforehand the outcome of all his wars. When the forces of the triumvirs were assembled at Bononia, an eagle that had perched upon his tent made a dash at two ravens, which attacked it on either side, and struck them to the ground. From this the whole army inferred that there would one day be discord among the colleagues, as actually came to pass, and divined its result. As he was on his way to Philippi, a Thessalian gave him notice of his coming victory on the authority of the deified Caesar, whose shade had met him on a lonely road. When he was sacrificing at Perusia without getting a favourable omen, and so had ordered more victims to be brought, the enemy made a sudden sally and carried off all the equipment of the sacrifice; whereupon the soothsayers agreed that all the dangers and disasters with which the sacrificer had been threatened would recoil on the heads of those who were in possession of the entrails; and so it turned out. As he was walking on the shore the day before the sea-fight off Sicily, a fish sprang from the sea and fell at his feet. At Actium, as he was going down to begin the battle, he met an ass with his driver, the man having the name Eutychus and the beast that of Nicon; and after the victory he set up bronze images of the two in the sacred enclosure into which he converted the site of his camp.”

Signs of Augustus’s Impending Death


birds were another omen

Suetonius wrote: “His death, too, of which I shall speak next, and his deification after death, were known in advance by unmistakable signs. As he was bringing the lustrum to an end in the Campus Martius before a great throng of people, an eagle flew several times about him and then going across to the temple hard by, perched above the first letter of Agrippa's name. On noticing this, Augustus bade his colleague Tiberius recite the vows which it is usual to offer for the next five years; for although he had them prepared and written out on a tablet, he declared that he would not be responsible for vows which he should never pay. At about the same time the first letter of his name was melted from the inscription on one of his statues by a flash of lightning; this was interpreted to mean that he would live only a hundred days from that time, the number indicated by the letter C, and that he would be numbered with the gods, since aesar (that is, the part of the name Caesar which was left) is the word for god in the Etruscan tongue. Then, too, when he was on the point of sending Tiberius to Illyricum and was proposing to escort him as far as Beneventum, and litigants detained him on the judgment seat by bringing forward case after case, he cried out that he would stay no longer in Rome, even if everything conspired to delay him---and this too was afterwards looked upon as one of the omens of his death. When he had begun the journey, he went on as far as Astura and from there, contrary to his custom, took ship by night since it chanced that there was a favourable breeze, and thus contracted an illness beginning with a diarrhea. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum--Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars--The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“Then after skirting the coast of Campania and the neighbouring islands, he spent four more days at his villa in Capreae, where he gave himself up wholly to rest and social diversions. As he sailed by the gulf of Puteoli it happened that from an Alexandrian ship which had just arrived there, the passengers and crew, clad in white, crowned with garlands, and burning incense, lavished upon him good wishes and the highest praise, saying that it was through him they lived, through him that they sailed the seas, and through him that they enjoyed their liberty and their fortunes. Exceedingly pleased at this, he gave forty gold pieces to each of his companions, exacting from every one of them a pledge under oath not to spend the sum that had been given them in any other way than in buying wares from Alexandria. More than that, for the several remaining days of his stay, among little presents of various kinds, he distributed togas and cloaks as well, stipulating that the Romans should use the Greek dress and language and the Greeks the Roman...

“Noticing from his dining-room that the tomb of this Masgaba, who had died the year before, was visited by a large crowd with many torches, he uttered aloud this verse, composed offhand: "I see the founder's tomb alight with fire"; and turning to Thrasyllus, one of the suite of Tiberius who was reclining opposite him and knew nothing about the matter, he asked of what poet he thought it was the work. When Thrasyllus hesitated, he added another verse: "See you with lights Masgaba honoured now?" and asked his opinion of this one also. When Thrasyllus could say nothing except that they were very good, whoever made them, he burst into a laugh and fell a joking about it. Presently he crossed over to Naples, although his bowels were still weak from intermittent attacks. In spite of this he witnessed and then started with Tiberius for his destination [Beneventum]. But as he was returning his illness increased and he at last took to his bed at Nola, calling back Tiberius, who was on his way to Illyricum, and keeping him for a long time in private conversation, after which he gave attention to no business of importance.”

Omens Before Nero's Death


magic items

Nero was forced to commit suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 30. He killed himself by falling on his sword. On signs before his death, Suetonius wrote: he was frightened by manifest portents from dreams, auspices and omens, both old and new. Although he had never before been in the habit of dreaming, after he had killed his mother it seemed to him that he was steering a ship in his sleep and that the helm was wrenched from his hands; that he was dragged by his wife Octavia into thickest darkness, and that he was now covered with a swarm of winged ants, and now was surrounded by the statues of the nations which had been dedicated in Pompeius Magnus' theater and stopped in his tracks. An Hispanic steed of which he was very fond was changed into the form of an ape in the hinder parts of its body, and its head, which alone remained unaltered, gave forth tuneful neighs. The doors of the Mausoleum flew open of their own accord, and a voice was heard from within summoning him by name. “ [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

After the Lares had been adorned on the Kalends of January, they fell to the ground in the midst of the preparations for the sacrifice. As he was taking the auspices, Sporus made him a present of a ring with a stone on which was engraved the rape of Proserpina. When the vows were to be taken [on the first of January, for the prosperity of the emperor and the state] and a great throng of all classes had assembled, the keys of the Capitol could not be found for a long time. When a speech of his in which he assailed Vindex was being read in the Senate, at the words "the wretches will suffer punishment and will shortly meet the end which they deserve," all who were present cried out with one voice: "You will do it, Augustus" [of course, used in a double sense]. It also had not failed of notice that the last piece which he sang in public was "Oedipus in Exile," and that he ended with the line: "Wife, father, mother drive me to my death."...

“Changing his purpose again, he sought for some retired place, where he could hide and collect his thoughts; and when his freedmen Phaon offered his villa in the suburbs between the Via Nomentana and the Via Salaria near the fourth milestone, just as he was, barefooted and in his tunic, he put on a faded cloak, covered his head, and holding a handkerchief before his face, mounted a horse with only four attendants, one of whom was Sporus. At once he was startled by a shock of earthquake and a flash of lightning full in his face, and he heard the shouts of the soldiers from the camp hard by, as they prophesied destruction for him and success for Galba. He also heard one of the wayfarers whom he met say: "These men are after Nero," and another ask: "Is there anything new in the city about Nero?" Then his horse took fright at the smell of a corpse which had been thrown out into the road, his face was exposed, and a retired soldier of the Guard recognized him and saluted him.”

Miracles and Miracle Workers in Ancient Rome

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “In the first century of the common era, renowned men could also be credited with having performed miracles. The popular emperor Vespasian (the former Roman general who had befriended the Jewish historian Josephus during the First Jewish Revolt) was credited with having performed several miracles. According to stories recorded by the Greek historians Dio Cassius and Tacitus, Vespasian worked several healing miracles, while visiting the shrine of Sarapis in Egypt. Among these miracles, Vespasian is credited with healing a blind man and restoring another man's crippled hand (Tacitus Histories 4.81). [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. <>]


magic talisman

“But miraculous powers were not limited to emperors, or even to people from the empire's social and political elite. Miracles were a sign of a special relationship between the gods and particular individuals. People who were thought to possess great wisdom or virtue were also frequently credited with performing miracles. One interesting example of a wonder-working, itinerant philosopher is that of Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius was a late first-century follower of the famous Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, whom some believed had become a god. Having renounced his possessions and worldly position in virtuous pursuit of divine wisdom, Apollonius was reputed to have led a disciplined and rigorously ascetic life. <>

“According to his later biographer, Philostratus, Apollonius possessed extraordinary gifts, including innate knowledge of all languages, the ability to foretell the future, and the ability to see across great distances. Apollonius's possession of divine wisdom also endowed him with the ability to heal the sick and demon-possessed, and Philostratus narrates the miraculous quality of a number of these cures and exorcisms. <>

“What all of these stories of wonder workers have in common is that (in contrast to magic, which is performed by charlatans for personal profit) miracles are performed by exceptional human beings, in the service of a god, for the good of other people. <>

“In addition to mere human beings, who were so favored either because of their extraordinary power or their extraordinary wisdom and virtue, the world of the early Roman empire was also inhabited by another group of individuals who could serve as intermediaries between the gods above and the world below. These were the demi-gods or heroes, individuals of mixed parentage (human and divine). They were usually credited with possessing extraordinary powers, while also possessing great understanding of and compassion for the pain and suffering of ordinary human beings. <>

“In general, their demi-god status is expressed in the fact that they live as mortals; but when they die, they retain their fully vigorous human appearance, as well as their former powers. Because of their unique status and qualities, in the popular imagination these demi-gods were frequently regarded as protectors. In the world of the first century, Herakles (Hercules) and Asclepius were two of the most widely worshipped of these protector or "savior" gods. <> Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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