The Archaeology of Magic in Roman Egypt, Cyprus, and Spain
Andrew T. Wilburn
Approaches ancient magical practice through archaeology and social history
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.
Andrew T. Wilburn is Associate Professor of Classics at Oberlin College.
Praise / Awards
"[Wilburn] has produced an important book that represents the first programmatic application of archaeology to the study of ancient magic."
—Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists
"...this book is a useful addition to the current complement of scholarship on the perpetually contested subject of “magic”."
—Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Materia Magica is a circumspect and original study. Wilburn effectively incorporates previous scholarship on ancient magic as well as related work, most notably that of Mark Leone and Gladys-Marie Fry on African-American 'conjure.' His characterization of magic as 'big business' (200), heterogeneous (217), and dependent on gossip and partial revelation (214, 262) is especially astute... Materia Magica is an important volume, but one that does not constitute—or presuppose to constitute—the last word on its subject. Because of its unique focus on material components, it is indispensable to scholars of ancient magic. It is also suitable for graduate and advanced undergraduate students in classics, history, and archaeology."
--American Journal of Archaeology
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