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by Archaeology Newsroom

Ancient magical gems

By the early Roman imperial period, magical gemstones, a new genre of glyptics, begin to appear. These gems represent a distinctive range and combination of representational motifs and inscriptions,the stones generally feature inscribed figures of deities and demons hitherto unknown to the Graeco-Roman and Egyptian pantheons; in some cases the known classical deities appear in a new iconographical context. This novelty consists of a) inscriptions, which are often formulaic and which to the uninitiated have no apparent meaning (ονόματα βάρβαρα) in Greek and b) cryptographic signs, or χαρακτήρες. These gemstones, some 5000 in number were made according to recipes, and after their engraving they were supernaturally charged with potency by a magician. Here various representations and functions, especially those involving a combination of sympathetic and therapeutic magic, are examined in some detail.