New Historian

Ancient Palindrome Amulet Holds Clues to Roman Rule

Nea Paphos in Cyprus

<![CDATA[An ancient amulet has a 59-letter inscription which reads the same forwards and backwards. Archaeologists discovered the amulet, believed to be 1,500 years old, at the ancient city of Nea Paphos in south western Cyprus. One side of the amulet is adorned with various striking images. Of particular interest is a bandaged mummy, possibly representing the Egyptian god Osiris, lying on a boat alongside Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. Harpocrates is depicted in a seated position, holding his right hand up to his lips. Curiously, the amulet also displays a cynocephalus - a mythical dog-headed creature - holding its paw to its lips, mimicking Harpocrates' pose. On the other side of the amulet is an inscription, written in Greek, that is a palindrome - it reads the same backwards as it does forwards. The inscription translates as "Iahweh (a god) is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine." In a recently published article in Studies in Ancient Art and Civilisation Joachim ?liwa, professor at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, claims that similar palindromes have been discovered throughout the ancient world. Amulets like this one found at Nea Paphos were created in order to protect their owners from harm, Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, the Jagiellonian University professor who led the excavation at Nea Paphos, told Live Science. As the amulet is 1,500 years old, it comes from a very important time in Cypriot history. During the fifth and sixth Centuries CE, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman Empire, sometimes referred to as the Byzantine Empire. By the fifth Century, Christianity was the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. Traditional, polytheistic practices were restricted and banned in certain areas. Nevertheless, some communities continued their traditional beliefs, worshipping older gods in established ways. This amulet provides evidence that people continued practicing traditional polytheistic beliefs. Papuci-Wladyka noted that these practices had a long history, the Villa of Theseus had a pagan mosaic which was still being maintained as late as the seventh century CE. It "rather seems that Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use," Papuci-Wladyka said. This amulet is especially interesting as it appears that the scribe was not particularly skilled. In two instances they mistakenly wrote a "?" instead of "v." The amulet also has several unusual features that indicate its creator did not quite comprehend the mythological characters they were depicting. The depictions of the gods are also fairly unskilled; they are based on Egyptian representations, but ?liwa wrote that the sources "were not fully understood by the creator of the amulet." Harpocrates, for example, should be sitting on a lotus flower, with his legs drawn up. On the amulet, however, he is seated on a stool. Further, the dog-headed cynocephalus should be depicted facing Harpocrates with paws raised in adoration. ?liwa wrote that "we can find no justification for the cynocephalus's gesture of raising its right paw to its lips in a manner similar to Harpocrates." Harpocrates and the cynocephalus also appear to have crisscrossing lines on their bodies, suggesting the artist mistakenly thought they should be mummified along with Osiris. What the amulet shows is that traditional gods were still prevalent in the Eastern Roman Empire, even if they were no longer the official religion. The amulet reveals that popular ideas and traditions had deep roots in their communities and were not stopped by a legal decree. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons user: Ankur P]]>

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