A Cursed Tablet

The lead scroll in the Museum of Pella
The lead scroll in the Museum of Pella

Archaeologists in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, uncovered a lead scroll in 1986 within an ancient grave. The translation would reveal a curse in Ancient Macedonian from the 4th century BCE. But the curse itself, while interesting, had little impact compared to the impact of the language itself… What was on the tablet?

The curse itself was a love spell. According to the text, Dionysophōn and Thetima were getting married, but Dagina wanted Dionysophōn for herself. Translated, it reads:

1. Of [Theti]ma and Dionysophon the ritual wedding and the marriage I bind by a written spell, and of all other
2. wo[men], both widows and maidens, but of Thetima in particular, and I entrust to Makron and
3. [the] daimones, and (only) when I should dig up again and unroll and read this,
4. [?] that she might wed Dionysophon, but not before, for I wish him to take no other woman than me,
5. and that [I] grow old with Dionysophon, and no one else. I [am] your supplicant:
6. Have pity on [Phil?]a, dear daimones, for I am (a) dagina? of all my dear ones and I am abandoned.
7. But guard [this] for my sake so that these things do not happen, and wretched Thetima perishes miserably.
8. … but that I become happy and blessed

Often, this kind of magic would be buried so that the dead could send the message on to underworld spirits (daimones in lines 3 and 6). So in line 2, where “Makron” is mentioned, this is likely the dead man with whom the tablet was buried. Whether Makron passed on Dagina’s curse or not, this tablet did provide huge insight into Ancient Macedonian language.

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Previously, it had been believed that the Ancient Macedonian language was a separate and distinct language from Ancient Greek. This lead scroll provided evidence that Ancient Macedonian may have been a dialect of Northwest Greek! One of the only evidences for this previously were the Greek names found in that area and time period, which makes this curse hugely important in the study of language in written historical sources (philology). In the end, because of an ancient love triangle, historical understanding of a dead language became clear. Without Dagina’s curse, we may never have learned of Ancient Macedonian’s true origins.

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