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2nd century curse is a blessing to scientists

December 02, 2006|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Somebody stole his cloak, and Servandus was angry enough to curse.

The resident of 2nd century Leicester, England, wrote out a curse, including a list of suspects, on a lead sheet and posted it on a temple wall.

The curse tablet was recently unearthed by University of Leicester archeologists excavating the remains of the Roman-occupied city.

"The curse is a remarkable discovery and, at a stroke, dramatically increases the number of personal names known from Roman Leicester," said Richard Buckley, of the university's Archeological Services, who announced the find Thursday.

Previously, he said, the only known names were Marcus Ulpius Novantico, from a military discharge certificate dated to the year 106; Verecunda and Lucius, from a graffito on a piece of pottery; and Primus, who inscribed his name on a land title.

The forms of the names on the curse tablet, he continued, "will help us to understand the cultural makeup of the population, whilst the subject matter tells us about the spread of spoken Latin and the religious practices of ordinary people."

The Latin inscription has been only partially translated. It reads: "To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus.... "

The curse lists 18 or 19 names -- a mixture of common Roman (such as Silvester and Germanus), Celtic (Riomandus) and Roman names found in Celtic-speaking provinces (Regalis).

The archeological team has investigated four large sites in the city in preparation for modern development. Other discoveries include thousands of pottery shards, building materials, animal bone, Roman weighing scales, coins, brooches, gaming pieces, hairpins and a piece of chain mail.

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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