Material in Apotropaic Objects: The Case of Lead in Late Antique Amulets
Deniz Sever Georgousakis, 2021-06-25
Apotropaic objects were made of various materials such as stone, clay, and metals. They served their purpose of protection not only through the images and inscriptions portrayed on them but also through the material from which they are made. For instance, certain stones were believed to have apotropaic powers, as evidenced by the works of Roman and Late Antique writers and they were often used for the manufacture of protective objects. Similar to stones, various metals were also used in the production of protective objects. Although there are numerous examples of gold, silver, and bronze objects of protection, lead is the most common metal in the amulets of different types and with various iconographies from Late Antiquity. Why was lead so commonly used for amulets? Was it simply due to the physical properties of the metal? Due to the fact that lead was cheaper than other metals and easy to work with thanks to its low-melting point? Was it also connected to the belief that lead had magical and protective powers? This paper will seek answers to these questions through a survey of Ancient Greek and Roman primary sources that refer to the medical, magical, and apotropaic usages of lead and material evidence such as spells, curse tablets, figurines, coffins, and amulets from various periods until Late Antiquity.