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by Archaeology Newsroom

Magic and Visual Culture in Late Antiquity

Some hundreds of late-antique and early Christian magical amulets survive from the eastern Mediterranean. Like the magical papyri, with which they are roughly contemporary, they draw on a common fund of Egyptian gods and Hebrew angels. For the most part, these amulets are apotro-paicand therapeutic in function. The particular focus of this article is on amulets in various shapes and media, including semi-precious stones (e.g. hematite, which was considered especially powerful), copper-alloy, silver glass, etc. The various amulet types are also surveyed: rings, pendants, armbands, house lintels, etc. The diverse magical and religious inscriptions, biblical vignettes and other incised designs (e.g., the Holy rider, the Evil Eye are briefly explored. A large number of narrative images is shown to derive from the Old and New Testaments, although according to the author other scenes originated from the locus sanctus iconography ot pilgrimage “souvenirs” from the Holly Land. In general, the users of these amulets clearly believed that the very names and images incised on them -and even sometimes their particular medium- had magical potency.