November 9, 2020

1.3 Archaeology of the Roman West: Magic and Apotropaic Items

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Prof. Hella Eckardt, University of Reading.

Sandie Williams, University of Reading.


Eckardt, H. & Williams, S. 2018. 'The Sound of Magic? Bells in Roman Britain', Britannia 49: 179–210.

Bells are recorded in many published excavation reports from Roman sites, but there has been no
previous study of the British material. This paper explores the significance of bells in the Roman
world from both a ritual and a functional perspective. We create a first typology of Romano-
British bells, provide an understanding of their chronology and examine any spatial and social
differences in their use. Special attention is paid to bells from funerary or ritual contexts in
order to explore the symbolic significance of these small objects. Bells from other parts of the
Roman world are considered to provide comparisons with those from Roman Britain. The
paper demonstrates that small bells were used as protective charms and may have been
preferentially placed into the graves of children and young women. The paper identifies a new,
probably Roman type of bell that has no parallels within the Empire, although similar pieces
occur in first- and second-century graves in the Black Sea region.
Keywords: Roman bells; amulets; burial; ritual; openwork bells; Black Sea.


Dr. Magali Bailliot

Bailliot, M. 2015. ‘Roman Magic Figurines from the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire: An Archaeological Survey’, Britannia 46: 93–110.

Bailliot, M. 2019. ‘Rome and the Roman Empire’, in Frankfurter, D. (ed.) Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic. Brill, pp. 175-197.

This paper deals with magic figurines from the Western provinces of the Roman Empire based on
an inventory of twelve figurines and their archaeological context. It underlines the place of the
figurines in the ritual of defixio and demonstrates that complex curse rituals such as those
described in the Greek Magical Papyri (GMP) were not performed only in the Mediterranean
basin. It also notes that these magic Western figurines are often found in important places
(such as cities and large villas) and in late contexts.
Keywords: figurines; magic; defixio; curse rituals; Roman Western provinces; Fishbourne; Greek Magical Papyri.


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