History: Curse Like a Roman

Cursing someone in modern time is a fairly harmless exercise. Telling someone to “go to hell” is merely wishful thinking on your part and not a guaranteed itinerary. Ancient Romans though, they took their cursing very seriously. Rather than slinging angry rhetoric at their target, an angry Roman reached out to the gods themselves for help. The slighted party trundled off to the local temple of choice and dropped a curse into the god’s inbox. Literally.

Romans wrote their curses on small sheets of lead or pewter and dropped them off at a local temple, often with a sacrifice of food, coin or animals. In a stroke of archeological fortune, lead endures the ravages of time,  so there are many examples of these curses in museums around the world.

My personal favorite is this one:

The sheet (of lead) which is given to Mercury, that he exact vengeance for the gloves which have been lost; that he take blood and health from the person who has stolen them…

A death wish for some stolen gloves. I wonder what the curse for something serious like stealing boots would be?

I wrote this post because the curses are quality gaming plot fodder. Perhaps curses dropped in a distant temple come true, prompting a journey of vengeance for a wronged party.  Gods are often mischievous and an ill-conceived  curse may need undoing after the gods grant the petition…in very literal terms.  An ambitious  priest refuses to return a politically embarrassing curse and the party invades the temple to steal…er…recover the scroll.

If you would like to see some more examples, I found some sites with more information on Roman curses.

Lead Curse

Curse Tablets of Roman Britain

National Geographic article on curses

If you have any other ideas on using curses in a game, drop me a comment.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

One thought on “History: Curse Like a Roman

  • July 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm
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    I also enjoy that much as we use latin as the language of magic, the Romans themselves had nonsense words and phrases that they’d add to their curses. “phrix phrox” is a personal favourite of mine.

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