Make Him Powerless With the Horses: On Sports-Related Curse Tablets

Sports-related curses were extremely prevalent in the ancient world. In fact, it was assumed that those who competed in public contests regularly employed curses. Moreover, this was not just some literary fantasy—material evidence of lead curse tablets (defixiones or katadesmoi) bears this opinion out. To get specific, these curses were inscribed on lead tablets which were consigned to a strategic location, such as a water-well, a grave, or a victim’s main locus of operation. For example, a curse that targeted a chariot race might be buried in the arena, so as to have an immediate effect on its victim (Gager 18-21).

Needless to say, games were an important feature of ancient Mediterranean life, one which overlapped with other significant areas. Many religious festivals involved a competitive dimension where athletes, dramatists, and dancers competed for glory. One thinks here of the Athenian Dionysia, or even the Pan-Hellenic Olympic games as examples of civic-religious events that involved a sporting component. Christopher A. Faraone suggests that sporting curses are evinced as early as the writings of Pindar, a poet from the 5th Century BCE (Faraone 11). He cites Pindar’s Olympian, which depicts  a charioteer named Pelops calling on Poseidon to not just give him the advantage in a race, but to damage his opponent as well (Faraone 11).

When games became both more numerous and more frequent in the Roman era, so too did sports-related cursing…

Read the full post at the Ancient Curses blog!

2 thoughts on “Make Him Powerless With the Horses: On Sports-Related Curse Tablets
  1. A lead curse tablet in a well is a rather scary curse, if you catch my drift. Joking aside, this is a fascinating article. I can’t help compare the modern culture to the ancient…although most contemporary athletes and fans would say they know better than to believe in curses (and would understand the dangers of lead poisoning!), they engage in their own superstitions to ensure victory — lucky socks and underwear, batting rituals, shaving/not shaving, special shoelace tying, and so forth. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. Yes, lead was a cheap material, and the ancients didn’t know the health risks that we know about today.

      Thanks for bringing up some examples from contemporary sports. I will be looking at some modern sports curses in an upcoming post. Indeed, some things never change!

Comments are closed.