Apotropaic Amulet from Ostia, Second to Fourth Century


Apotropaic Amulet from Ostia, Second to Fourth Century


Dated somewhere between the second and fourth centuries, this apotropaic amulet from Ostia exemplifies the eclectic, pragmatic, and individual nature of late antique devotion. The amulet would be worn either as a pendant or around the neck. The amulet was inscribed with an invocation of "Solomon," borrowed Jewish legend and having become known among most in the Mediterranean as a powerful magician. Solomon may or may not be represented in the figure, carrying a wand or staff, placed alongside a healing caduceus. However, the back clearly shows three priestesses of Hecate surrounded by stars. They are either positively associated with serpents as symbols of healing and fertility or apotropaically trampling them. On either side are stylized constellations.

The wearer might not have been aware of all the cultural origins of the symbols, which had by this time entered a magical koine. "Solomon" might have been included merely for his magical associations and associations with foreignness par excellence. Mere invocation of an exotic Jewish feel possessed imaginative power. Hence these signs from different cultures could be recombined into a system of magical power.

For the textual equivalent of such pragmatic eclecticism in late antiquity in spells and invocations, see the collection of so-called Papyri Graecae Magicae (PGM), or "Greek Magical Papyri," which date widely between the second century BCE and fifth century CE. These, like the Ostian amulet, include free associations of gods and concepts from many Mediterranean cultures, all in the Hellenistic milieu, including Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and Greece.

For further secondary discussion and translation, given that textual sources are largely beyond the purview of this website, see The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, edited by Hans Dieter Betz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.


Doug Boin


Boin, Doug. Ostia in Late Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.




Ostian Amulet.tiff



Doug Boin, Apotropaic Amulet from Ostia, Second to Fourth Century, 2016

Cite As

Doug Boin, “Apotropaic Amulet from Ostia, Second to Fourth Century,” Living Late Antiquity, accessed February 29, 2024, http://livinglateantiquity.org/items/show/160.