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Cursing in Roman Britain: Connectivity, Identity, and Belief

LINE, MADELINE,CHRISTINE (2020) Cursing in Roman Britain: Connectivity, Identity, and Belief. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis explores cursing in Roman Britain as part of a wider Mediterranean practice and technology that was adopted and adapted to suit the specific needs and beliefs of dedicators. Such a perspective allows for an analysis of the factors that influenced this process of adoption and adaptation and, to develop this perspective, requires the use of globalisation theory. This work aims to bridge the divide between studies of archaeology and ancient languages by considering literacy alongside material culture.

As a ritual practice, cursing is revealing of perceptions of divine or supernatural power and human-divine interaction. The majority of curse tablets in Britain are best understood as ‘judicial prayers', which were created to seek justice or revenge for a perceived crime or wrongdoing. With few exceptions, this subcategory of curse tablet was adopted in the province while ‘standard’ defixiones or binding spells were not. The present work considers that this pattern may be related to regional concepts of belief and the role of the divine in securing justice for perceived wrongs. Observations that the curse tablets from Britain primarily deal with theft and display a preoccupation with blood-related suffering are also further developed.

Studies of curse tablets in the ancient world have demonstrated that curses were employed in situations of individually perceived social crisis and inequality. This thesis builds on these observations by seeking to address identity expression and negotiation in Roman Britain. Significantly, the language and content of the tablets allow for and necessitate the consideration of aspects of identity that have been previously received little attention in studies of the curses of Roman Britain, such as age, gender, and status. It is argued that these media provide a significant insight into the discrepant identities of those who created written curses in Roman Britain.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Jul 2020 09:21

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