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The Transformation of Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times

Featuring more than 120 illustrations, The Transformation of Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times is an essential reference for those interested in the religion, culture, and history of the ancient Mediterranean.

The Transformation of Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times

Christopher A. Faraone

2018 | 512 pages | Cloth $89.95
Classics / Archaeology / Religion
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Table of Contents

Abbreviations for Corpora of Magical Texts
Introduction 1

Chapter 1. Distribution
Chapter 2. Shapes
Chapter 3. Media

Chapter 4. Action Figures
Chapter 5. Domestic Guardians
Chapter 6. Pharaonic and Ptolemaic Images

Chapter 7. Prayers
Chapter 8. Incantations
Chapter 9. Framing Speech Acts
Chapter 10. Conclusions and Further Trajectories

A. Summaries of Recipes for Protective Amulets Worn During Dangerous Rituals (from the longer PGM Handbooks)
B. Summaries of Recipes from a Curative Handbook Embedded in a Magical Handbook (PGM VII 193-214)
C. Summaries of Recipes from Smaller Fragments of Curative or Protective Handbooks
D. Summaries of Recipes from a Fragment of a Curative Handbook (Testament of Solomon 18.15-40)
E. Summary of Recipes from a Fragment of an Amulet Handbook (S&D 26-39)
F. Summary of Recipes Preserved by Marcellus of Bordeaux
G. Summary of Recipes Preserved by Alexander of Tralles
H. Summary of Recipes Preserved by Aelius Promotus
I. Summary of Recipes Preserved by Dioscorides

Glossary of Authors and Texts
Glossary of Terms

General Index
Index Locorum
Ancient Words

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


This study has a precursor of sorts, a book written more than a quarter century ago about talismanic and apotropaic statues in ancient Greece and devoted mainly to the protective role of such images in the ancient Greek city. That book was well received, but some reviewers were surprised that it did not contain a single illustration. And indeed, I must admit that at that time, because of my training and orientation as a philologist, I was focused almost exclusively on literary, rather than archaeological, evidence and that it did not occur to me to include any photographs or drawings. This volume, as the gentle reader will discover, has more than a hundred illustrations, a change that reflects both a great benefit and a great risk. Beneficial, I hope, is the way it brings together for the first time a wide array of art-historical, archaeological, papyrological, epigraphical, and literary sources to bear on the subject of ancient Greek amulets; risky, because each of these scholarly traditions and each of the many subfields within them involve a bibliography and an expertise that is beyond the human powers of a single scholar. There will, I am sure, be some details missed or evidence wrongly assessed, but my hope is that the experts, many of whom I thank below for their help, will overlook such lapses and errors and enjoy the wider and, I hope, richer panorama sketched in these pages. This book has three thematic sections—"Archaeology," "Images," and "Texts"—that could perhaps be read in isolation, the first by archaeologists, the second by art historians, and the third by philologists, but I would strongly advise against proceeding in this manner, because such an approach would simply reify these traditional academic boundaries and undermine or at least ignore the central argument of this study that the popularity of easily identifiable amulets in the Roman period reflects a long process of accretion, whereby the traditional shapes and media surveyed in the first section begin in the imperial period to take on images and texts that tell us unequivocally and for the first time that these shapes and media were being used all along as amulets.

This volume began to take shape in Paris, when in the autumn of 2011 at the invitation of John Scheid, I gave four lectures at the Collège de France, each of which eventually became important parts of Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 8. I cannot thank John enough for the invitation, which helped focus what was at the time a somewhat inchoate project, and I thank the audience for their questions and especially for their skepticism about some of the arguments that I eventually overhauled or abandoned. Roughly two years later I returned to Paris to take up a fellowship at the Institut d'Études Avancées de Paris, where, thanks to the collegial atmosphere created by Gretty Mirdal and Simon Luck, I finished a full draft of all of the internal chapters. Gratitude is also due to the University of Chicago's Paris Centre, especially to Robert Morrissey and Sebastien Greppo, for various kinds of additional support that made my year in Paris especially productive, and to François Lissarrague, who kindly lent me his desk, computer, and scanner at the Gernet-Glotz Library. But I was, in fact, working on individual sections of this book as early as the autumn of 2008, when, as a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, I wrote a long article on metrical incantations inscribed onto amulets that eventually became a large part of Chapter 8. I am grateful to Heinrich Von Staden for conversation and encouragement during my time at the Institute, as well as to the other fellows and especially to the librarians for their help. In the winter of 2009, as a research fellow at the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu and with the guidance of Ken Lapatin and François Lissarrague, I began to make some first tentative steps toward thinking about the images on ancient Greek amulets and how one might go about interpreting them. It was there that I first presented the material that now makes up the second half of Chapter 4.

Throughout the past eight years, I have been happily associated with the Campbell Bonner Magical Gems Database, which continues to flourish at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Budapest under the wisdom and energetic leadership of Árpád Nagy, whose keen eye and friendship have also been crucial to the evolution of the volume at hand. Attilio Mastrocinque, another dear friend and associate of the Database, taught me how to photograph these magical gems during a marathon visit to the basement of the Kelsey Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His exquisitely photographed and commentated corpora of the magical gems in the major Italian collections (2003 and 2008) and in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris (2014) were timely and crucial research tools for this volume. I cannot thank him and Árpád enough, as both read and commented on the entire manuscript and saved me from numerous errors. Other associates in the group include Simone Michel-von Dungern, author of the marvelous 2001 edition of the magical gems in the British Museum and an indispensable 2004 study of all the extant gems; Erika Zwierlein-Diehl; Veronique Dasen; Jeffrey Spier; and Richard Gordon. To Richard I owe additional thanks for his numerous and penetrating studies on ancient magic and even more so for his skepticism and goodwill in commenting on my work either from the audience or on the margins of the page.

Over the past eight years, I have also visited a number of museums and libraries to photograph and study their magical gems, papyri, and other amulets, both for my own continuing education and for my contributions to the Campbell Bonner Database. At nearly every stop I encountered extremely dedicated and helpful individuals. Early on, Matilde Avisseau-Broustet (Cabinet des Médailles), Yekaterina Barbash (Brooklyn Museum), Chris Entwistle (British Museum), Ken Lapatin (Getty Villa Museum), Andrew Meadows (American Numismatic Society), and Brian Rose (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) were exceedingly helpful and allowed extended or repeated visits. For more recent assistance, I am grateful to Giovanni Avagliano (Paestum Museum), Martina Bagnoli (Walters Art Museum), Lucilla Burn (Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge), Robert Daniel (Institut für Altertumskunde, Cologne), Susanne Ebbinghaus (Harvard Art Museums), Kay Ehling (Staatliche Münzsammlung, Munich), Sonia Focke (Staatliches Museum Ãgyptischer Kunst, Munich), Marian Feldman (Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of California-Berkeley), Jasper Gaunt (Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University), Joe Greene (Harvard Semitic Museum), Juliet R. Graver Istrabadi (Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University),Todd Hickey (Tebtunis Papyri, Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley), Ulla Kasten (Babylonian Collection, Yale University), Christine Kondoleon (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Christopher Lightfoot (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Freiderike Naumann-Steckner (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne), Dirk Obbink (Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Ashmolean Museum), J. Michael Padget (Princeton University Art Museum), Irini Papageorgiou (Benaki Museum, Athens), Dieter Quast (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz), Stephen Quirke (Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London), Don C. Skemer (Rare Books Collection, Firestone Memorial Library, Princeton University), Rachael Sparks (Institute of Archaeology, University College London), Rüdiger Splitter (Antikensammlung at the Museumslandschaft, Kassel), Jeffrey B. Wilcox (Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri), and Terry Wilfong (Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor).

Finally, as my research for this volume often required me to venture into areas of study beyond my expertise, I am especially grateful to the following individuals for answering questions, suggesting bibliography, reading parts of the manuscript, or sending me their work in progress: Yekaterina Barbash, Caitlin Barret, Jacco Dieleman, Ian S. Moyer, Joachim Friedrich Quack, Robert Ritner, and Emily Teeter for guidance with the Egyptian material; Walter Farber and Joann Scurlock for the Mesopotamian; Brien Garnand, Carolina Lopez-Ruiz, and Phil Schmitz for the Phoenician and Carthaginian; Bruce Lincoln for the Persian; Gideon Bohak and Ortal-Paz Saar for the Jewish; Cliff Ando for the Roman; Veronique Dasen, Patricia Gaillard-Seux, and Paul Keyser for the medical; Tom Carpenter, Jas Elsner, Emanuel Meyer, Sarah Morris, Marina Piranomonte, Verity Platt, James Redfield, Joe Rife, Richard Veymiers, Paolo Vitellozzi, and Anastasia Zografou for the archaeological and art historical; Marianna Dági, Robert Daniel, Todd Hickey, Raquel Martin Hernandez, Roberta Mazza, Dirk Obbink, and Sofia Toralles Tovar for the papyrological; and Alexander Hollmann and Roy Kotansky for the epigraphical. For those who I have unwittingly left off this long list, I offer my deepest apologies. I should close this list of acknowledgments by thanking again Roy Kotansky, who is in fact the amulet expert that I have known longest and with whom I cowrote an article nearly thirty years ago about a gold-foil amulet in Connecticut: Roy, in addition to his friendship and his magisterial Greek Magical Amulets, which has been at my side throughout this project, has generously shared his notes, drawings, and insights; answered what must have seemed an unending series of email questions; and read and commented on the entire manuscript.

In addition to the residential fellowships mentioned above, I am also deeply grateful for grants from the Loeb Foundation and the University of Chicago's Women's Board. Also in Chicago and for various kinds of editorial or technical help I am very thankful to Jeremy Brightbill, Kassandra Jackson, Thomas Keith, Megan Nutzman, and Walter Shandruk and for bibliographic genius to Cathy Mardikes at the Regenstein Library. Most especially, I thank my friend and former dean, Martha Roth, for her continual support of this project, both financial and otherwise. Finally, this work has derived continual energy, inspiration, and goodwill from my friends, coteachers, and coconspirators at the Center for the Study of Ancient Religions at the University of Chicago: Clifford Ando and Bruce Lincoln. I consider myself extremely lucky to have spent the past twenty-five years in such a rich and dynamic intellectual environment.

Preliminary arguments for this volume appeared earlier as articles in Classical Antiquity; Classical Philology, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Kernos, Journal of Roman Studies; MHNH: Revista internacional de investigación sobre magia y astrología antiguas; Museum Helveticum, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, and a number of edited volumes.

I have tried to make the book more user-friendly for nonspecialists by leaving out the original Greek texts and citing in transliteration, only when absolutely necessary, individual Greek words or phrases. I have, however, treated many of these texts in detail in previous publications, to which I direct the reader in the notes. In transliterating Greek names, it has seemed reasonable, if not entirely consistent, to use the familiar Latinized spelling for well-known names for which this has become normal English usage (e.g., Socrates or Theophrastus) and in other cases to transliterate directly from the Greek (e.g., Dike or Ladike). In my translations of Greek and Latin texts, I use a very simplified system of brackets: square brackets [ ] indicate a lacuna in the ancient text that has been filled in by modern editors who extrapolate the missing word or words from the surrounding text, while parentheses ( ) are used to supplement the text by providing extra words or phrases or, more rarely, giving in transliteration the original Greek word or words, with the goal of making a difficult passage less opaque. A glossary of perhaps unfamiliar authors and texts appears at the end of the volume, followed by another of perhaps unfamiliar technical terms. The nine appendices summarize a variety of ancient formularies or handbooks that preserve recipes for protective and curative incantations or amulets.

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