Ancient ‘curse tablets’ discovered down a 2,500-year-old well in Athens



Thirty small lead tablets engraved with ancient curses were found down a 2,500-year-old water well in the area of Kerameikos, ancient Athens’ main burial ground. The small tablets invoked the gods of the underworld in order to cause harm to others.

Dr. Jutta Stroszeck, director of the Kerameikos excavation on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens said the ritual texts were an attempt to “invoke the gods of the underworld” but the person that ordered the curse is never mentioned by name, “only the recipient”.

*Keramaikos Cemetery

According to historians, curses enshrined on tablets made from lead, wax, and stone, were not uncommon practices in Ancient Greece and Rome, when lines between magic and religion were blurry.

Previously discovered curses from tombs dating to the Classical period (480-323 BC) had been related to people that had died in an untimely manner and through what appeared to be plain old bad luck. These folks were deemed as being most suitable for carrying spells to the underworld. According to an article in the Haaretz, Dr. Stroszeck said there was good reason for the transition of “ill-will from graves to wells” in ancient Athens.

Since 1913 the excavations conducted by the German Archaeological Institute in the Kerameikos area have unearthed about 6,500 burials from ornate tombs and graves marked with stelai, reliefs, marble vases, and sculpted animals which were deemed important on the journey to the realm of the dead.

According to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, Kerameikos is named after a community of potters (or "kerameis") that once lived there. Because of the site's positioning near a river, it was subject to constant flooding, which made it a difficult area to inhabit—and so it became to be used as a burial instead.

*Main source: Ancient Origins