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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: The Site

Magical Bowl: Third-fourth century AD

Particularly urgent or casual writing also could be executed on broken pottery (ostraca), or even on whole vessels. This earthenware bowl is inscribed horizontally around its circumference with a magical love-charm to attract the favours of one Matrona daughter of Tagene to the smitten Theodorus son of Techosis, who commissioned the charm. The bowl came from a cemetery at Oxyrhynchus where it had been entrusted for communication to the powers of the underworld. The letter-shapes are familiar from documentary texts of the third and fourth centuries. The writing follows the horizontal ridges formed by the throwing of the pot as though guide-lines for writing.

The text of the love charm on the bowl is identical with that inscribed on two defixiones, inscribed love-curses on lead tablets (image).

All three were found together with another terracotta bowl, uninscribed but stuffed with an extended love-charm written on papyrus, which was further wrapped around two humanoid figures formed out of wax, holding each other in a sympathetic embrace (publ. D.Wortmann, Bonner Jahrb. 168, 1968, 56ff.; ZPE 72, 1988, 245ff.):

Institut für Altertumskunde, Cologne