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Christopher Faraone

Université de Chicago
Writing Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times: Epigraphy, Evolution and Design
01 September 2013 -
31 January 2014

In the Roman imperial period people wore amulets that consist almost entirely of Greek letters: comprehensible prayers, acclamations and incantations, as well as cryptic magical names and strings of vowels and symbols. In the dry climate of Egypt numerous papyrus examples have been unearthed and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin nearly one hundred have survived on thin sheets of gold, silver, tin and copper and even more gemstones.  Because most of these texts date to the Roman imperial period, scholars have sometimes argued and often assumed that they reflect an increase in magical ritual or superstitious belief in the period.  There is, of course, one obvious problem with equating the advent of written texts with the arrival of new ritual practices or beliefs: nearly all of the traditional texts found on the inscribed amulets of the Roman period ­– prayers, blessings, liturgies, incantatory songs – can be documented earlier, in some cases much earlier, as oral speech-acts in our literary sources.

During my stay at the IEA I hope to finish a manuscript of a book on this topic, which will, in fact, be a book length history of sorts of the Greek amulet, that will document the long pre-Roman history of such amulets and show how they change after the addition of writing.  There are three major divisions to the volume: (i) “Media”, in which I discuss the importance of certain materials, e.g. coral, amber, bronze, hematite, from the classical period onwards; (ii) “Images”, in which I examine the role of images from even earlier times, e.g. the phallus, the head of Medusa, Heracles fighting wild beasts; and (iii) “Texts” which are the last to be added and in most cases seem to be the transcription of a charm or prayer that was previously read aloud.  Aside from the historical argument, I will also discuss other features of ancient Greek amulets and their reception: the relationship between house and body amulets (i.e. how the house was conceived as a body), the miniaturization of monumental cult statues (what gets lost; what gets emphasized?) and, perhaps most importantly, how historians have ignored the subject in an effort to maintain the idea that Greeks in the classical period, especially the Athenians, were an exception to the rule that all ancient peoples wore and valued amulets in their day-to-day lives.

Communication de Christopher Faraone, résident à l'IEA de Paris
14 Apr 2014 11:00 -
14 Apr 2014 13:00,
Verone :
Women and Children First: The Earliest Evidence for Ancient Greek Body Amulets
08 Apr 2014 16:00 -
08 Apr 2014 16:30,
Venise :
Protective Statues and Other Amulets: The Recipes in the Greek Magical Papyri
Conférence de Christopher Faraone, résident à l'IEA de Paris
10 Mar 2014 11:00 -
10 Mar 2014 13:00,
Paris :
Amulettes pour les femmes et les filles dans la Grèce antique
04 Feb 2014 16:00 -
04 Feb 2014 18:00,
Paris :
L’évolution des amulettes grecques aux périodes hellénistique et romaine : trois études de cas
04 Feb 2014 16:00 -
04 Feb 2014 18:00,
L’évolution des amulettes grecques aux périodes hellénistique et romaine : trois études de cas
10 Jan 2014 11:00 -
10 Jan 2014 20:00,
Divine Presences on Greek Magical Gems
10 Jan 2014 11:00 -
10 Jan 2014 20:00,
Présences divines sur les gemmes magiques grecques
Lecture by Christopher Faraone (Paris IAS fellow)
02 Nov 2013 09:30 -
02 Nov 2013 11:45,
Ann Arbor :
Miniature Statues as Amulets
16 Sep 2013 09:30 -
17 Sep 2013 18:00,
Paris :
Framing Ritual Speech, Action and Objects in the Ancient World: Homage, Appropriation and Manipulation
Antiquity (3500 BCE – 476 CE)