Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Archaeological evidence: 3d. Apotropaic qualities of objects: Inscribed and other form of evidence
Friday 2021-06-25
17:25 | 19:25
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

Apotropaic inscribed stones with Greek inscriptions from late antique Sicily

Barbara Roberts, 2021-06-25, Time: 19:05 - 19:25


There are numerous objects from Roman and late Roman Sicily that bear Greek inscriptions and/or images that suggest one or more of the following three goals: protection (of a person or their possessions), healing, or the attraction of good fortune. These include eight terracotta or limestone slabs attributed to sites in south-eastern Sicily. The slabs vary in dimensions from 13 cm to 47 cm in height, and date from between the third and the sixth century CE. On all of them, inscribed images or text seem to suggest an apotropaic or good-fortune-bringing function. Seven of them have text suggesting use as boundary stones for land or as part of buildings, to exorcise demons and/or bad weather and enjoinder supernatural entities for a good harvest.

This paper brings together the evidence for these stones and compares them with extant Sicilian lamellae (inscribed metal tablets) and pendants, and with other evidence for apotropaic structural features in the area. It will be argued that in this part of Sicily, ambitions and anxieties in the local “emotional community” surrounding harvests were understood to require textual resolution similar to that used in some portable amulets. However, the difference in ‘target’ (a place and the plants that occupied it rather than a human being) necessitated a different medium. An unmoving apotropaic, prophylactic and/or fortune-bringing object had material consequences for how people encountered it in everyday life, and might have had different rituals accompanying its production or installation. This paper will therefore also consider the rituals recommended by agricultural authors for the same goals, and how fixing or burying these stones during installation would further differentiate them from portable or worn apotropaic objects.

About the Author(s)

PhD student, The Open University, United Kingdom


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