Monday, January 25, 2010

Cursing the Opposition

It would be difficult to overstate the important of Chariot racing in the Greco-Roman world. Emperors regularly stated their loyalty to particular drivers and powerful factions (Reds, Whites, Blues and Greens) organised the financial, technical and professional side of the sport.

The fanatical support of the mob for their individual factions in the races is commented on again and again in the sources. We hear for instance that in AD 390, on charioteer from one of the factions in a place called Thessalonica made a homosexual advance on a Roman general in the area and was ordered to be arrested. When word got out, the supporters of his faction rioted, lynched the general concerned, broke their charioteer out of jail and then continued to riot and burn down the centre of the city. The Emperor had to send in the troops and seven thousand people were killed in the ensuing chaos.

Supporters sometimes even resorted to magic with the fashioning of ‘Curse tablets’. These sought to gain an advantage by crippling the rival drivers and their animals. They would have been commissioned from magicians by charioteers and team managers, and by fans who would try to deposit them on the track where they could be most effective. Here are some of my favourite curses which survive:

‘I call upon you O demon, whoever you are, to ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the green and white factions, and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Clarus, Felix, Primulus and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.’ (ILS 8753)

Another tablet from Carthage reads:

'...Bind the horses whose names and images/likeness on this implement I entrust to you: of the Red (team)... of the Blues... Bind their running, their power, their soul, their onrush, their speed. Take away their victory, entangle their feet, hinder them, hobble them, so that tomorrow morning in the hippodrome they are not able to run or walk about, or win or go out of the starting gates, or advance on the racecourse or track, but may they fall down with their drivers, Euprepus, son of Telesphoros and Gentius and Felix, and Dionysius ‘the biter’ and Lamuros. Bind their hands, take away their victory, their exit, their sight, so that they are unable to see their rival charioteers, but rather snatch them up from their chariots and twist them to the ground so that they alone fall, dragged all along the hippodrome, especially at the turning points, with damage to their body, with the horses they drive. Now quickly. ‘(Defixionum Tabellae 237)

Another reads:

Help me in the Circus on 8 November. Bind every limb, every sinew, the shoulders, the ankles and the elbows of Olympus, Olympianus, Scortius and Juvencus, the charioteers of the Red. Torment their minds, their intelligence and their senses so that they may not know what they are doing, and knock out their eyes so that they may not see where they are going—neither they nor the horses they are going to drive. (Curse from Carthage 3rd century CE)

Such was the passion of the charioteer supporter. Alas, I think it would take a prohibitive number of curse tablets to get Ipswich Town to a respectable position in the league.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a thought: how much would a curse tablet that was potent enough to cripple New Zealand cost?

...or do you think even the beasts of the abyss fear the All Blacks?