First Advisor

Brian Turner

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Law and magic, Blessing and cursing – Rome, Rome -- Religious life and customs, Apuleius, Libanius




Ancient Roman court cases, like that of Apuleius and Libanius, indicate that "magic" was an offense punishable by law, and literary sources such as Pliny the Elder and Horace substantiate this with references to illicit magical rites. Curse tablets, particularly those of Roman Britain, show another side of magic in the Roman world wherein the use of curse tablets has restrictions and guidelines, and the use of such curses have been institutionalized into some communities as an observant practice. Many Roman religious rites appear similar to modern, Euro-centric depictions of 'magic;' which provokes the central question when prosecuting cases of Roman curse tablets: 'what constitutes magic?' After exploring what "magic" meant to the ancient Romans, what it means for modern scholars, and how it relates to ancient religion, this thesis approaches the relationship between magic and Roman law. This paper seeks to understand the role of magic in the lives of the common people of Rome, as well as upper-echelon perspectives on the use of magic, and to illuminate the intimate relationship between ancient Roman law and the practice of magic. Analysis of ancient Roman literary and legal sources, curse tablets, and other pertinent archeological evidence, and secondary scholarship aids in this illumination as this paper addresses questions of why magic was prosecuted and what this could suggest in terms of understanding the Ancients and curbing modern Western assumptions about the rationality of our legal ancestors' laws and legal systems.


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