Athènes (Grèce): Curse Tablets Discovered in 2,400-Year-Old Grave

May have been left for deceased to take to gods-researcher


In Classical Athens, tombs contained all that was needed for the journey into the afterlife. That included tablets inscribed with terrible curses directed at people who were hated by the deceased. And curses on their property, such as taverns. Inscriptions on four tablets dating to 2,400 years ago and found in 2003 in a burial ground north east of Piraeus port are proof of this, according to a study published in Live Science by a researcher from the John Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Curse tablet tavern keeper 2Written in Greek, the curse on this lead tablet targets Demetrios and Phanagora who were husband-and-wife tavern keepers who lived in Athens around 2,400 years ago. Credit: Jessica Lamont

The tablets discovered in the tomb of a young woman (five altogether) carried curses against two couples, husband and wife, presumably the owners of some taverns in the Greek city.

They addressed the gods of the underworld, asking them to go after these four tavern keepers. The fifth slab found had no inscriptions and was probably used for reciting spells aloud.

Curse tablet tavern keeper 1Here, the lead tablet engraved with a curse against husband-and-wife tavern keepers, Demetrios and Phanagora.
Credit: Jessica Lamont

All five slabs were hammered with an iron nail and placed in the tomb.

The tablets made it possible to reach the gods, which according to ancient beliefs, would have ensured the curses were carried out. One of them speaks of one of the two couples: Demetrios and Phanagora.

"Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios, and their tavern and all of their property," one tablet reads. "Reduce my enemies in blood and ashes. And I will hit your tongue with a Kynotos." That term means "dog's ear", and was a word used in gambling jargon of the time, researcher Jessica Lamont explained in her publication.

The curse directed towards Demetrios reveals that in classical times the taverns of Athens were places where people placed bets and where "disgusting activities" happened, said Lamont, who studied the tablets in Piraeus museum.

The curses were kept in underground areas so that they would reach the gods of the underworld. The tomb in which they were found may have nothing to do with the victims of the curses, Lamont said, and it could be just a coincidence. The woman buried in the tomb may have died at a time when someone wanted to go after these people. During funeral rites, burial sites were easily accessible to anyone.