Curse tablet discovered in medieval latrine

Curse board

Archaeologists discovered this curse tablet from the 15th century in a latrine during an excavation at the town hall construction site. When unrolled, the words “taleke sathanas belzebuk berith hinrik” became legible. © Archeology in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (AIM-V)

Curse tablets with curses were common in antiquity, but were increasingly banned and outlawed in Christian times. Now a find in Rostock shows that such curse tablets were apparently still used in the Middle Ages. During excavations, archaeologists discovered a roll of lead with curses carved into it at the bottom of a 15th century latrine. This curse wished upon the necks of two people the devil in the person of Satan, Beelzebub and Berith.

They were intended to harm personal enemies, eliminate rivals or even bring bad luck to competitors: In Greek and Roman antiquity, people often used harmful spells in the form of curse tablets. These usually consisted of thick sheet metal into which the names of those to be harmed and an invocation to demons, devils or underworld deities were carved. The sheet metal thus cursed was then rolled up, sometimes additionally pierced, and then deposited in special places. This could be a temple, but often the curse tablets were simply buried, sunk or otherwise taken to the “underworld”.

Found in the Rostock town hall construction site

Until now, such curse tablets were considered a custom, especially in antiquity and late antiquity. However, they were hardly known from later times. All the more exciting and spectacular is a find made by archaeologists led by Jörg Ansorge from Archeology in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (AIM-V) in Rostock. During excavations as part of construction work on the Rostock town hall, they came across a medieval latrine. At its bottom lay a small, rolled-up sheet of lead, which dates back to the 15th century and upon which an inscription in Gothic minuscules became visible when it was unrolled.

The inscription read: “taleke sathanas belzebuk berith hinrik”. The first and last names represent a woman and a man - presumably the ones against whom the curse was directed. In between there are three names for devils – Satan, Beelzebub and (Baal) Berith. This is clearly a curse tablet that wished these underworld rulers on the necks of the two addressees, Taleke and Hinrik. However, it is unknown why someone wanted to harm these two people a good 500 years ago. Did someone want to break up Taleke and Heinrich's relationship? Was this about spurned love and jealousy, should someone be put out of the way?

First curse tablet from the Middle Ages

What is clear, however, is that this is a very special find. Because it is the first curse tablet that does not come from antiquity, but from the Middle Ages. “We found something that we couldn’t have found,” says Ansorge. “Curse tablets are actually known from ancient times in the Greek and Roman regions, i.e. from the period from 800 BC to 600 AD. Our discovery, on the other hand, can be dated to the 15th century. This is really a very special find.” As the archaeologist explains, similar finds from the Middle Ages were previously unknown.

The discovery of this curse tablet now proves that such written curses must have existed well into the Middle Ages - at least in isolated cases. How widespread this practice, which was actually frowned upon as evil magic in the Middle Ages, was at the time remains unknown.

Source: Rostock Town Hall

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