Materia Magica: The Archaeology of Magic in Roman Egypt, Cyprus, and Spain

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University of Michigan Press, 2012 - History - 342 pages
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This exciting new study draws on objects excavated or discovered in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century at three Mediterranean sites. Through the three case studies, Materia Magica identifies specific forms of magic that may be otherwise unknown. It isolates the practitioners of magic and examines whether magic could be used as a form of countercultural resistance. Andrew T. Wilburn discovers magic in the objects of ancient daily life, suggesting that individuals frequently turned to magic, particularly in crises. Local forms of magic may have differed, and Wilburn proposes that the only way we can find small-town sorcerers is through careful examination of the archaeological evidence.

Studying the remains of spells enacted by practitioners, Wilburn's work unites the analysis of the words written on artifacts and the physical form of these objects. He situates these items within their contexts, to study how and why they were used. Materia Magica approaches magic as a material endeavor, in which spoken spells, ritual actions, and physical objects all played vital roles in the performance of a rite.

Materia Magica develops a new method for identifying and interpreting the material remains of magical practice by assessing artifacts within their archaeological contexts. Wilburn suggests that excavations undertaken in recent centuries can yield important lessons about the past, and he articulates the ways in which we can approach problematic data.


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Chapter 1 Finding Magic in the Archaeological Record
Chapter 2 Materia Magica
Chapter 3 Identifying the Remains of Magic in the Village of Karanis
Chapter 4 Practitioners and Craft at Amathous Cyprus
Chapter 5 Three Curses from Emp˙ries and Their Social Implications
Chapter 6 The Archaeology of Magic
Plates follow page 272

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About the author (2012)

Andrew T. Wilburn is Associate Professor of Classics at Oberlin College.

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