At the Mercy of History – Winner of the SFB-Story Contest

by Giuditta Mirizio (TP A03 UP2 „Materiality and Presence of Magical Signs between Antiquity and the Middle Ages – Prayers for Justice to Gods and Demons“)

I made it! A small, insignificant lead tablet made its way into history. I thought I would have never come to light again!

Dr. Giuditta Mirizio (TP A03 UP2 „Materiality and Presence of Magical Signs between Antiquity and the Middle Ages – Prayers for Justice to Gods and Demons“) works on the question of how people in Antiquity communicated with gods and supernatural powers.

I was cut, inscribed, turned upside down, exposed to public view, reused, folded and then deposited on the occasion of a ritual in a sanctuary. I do not know who precisely scratched the text on my surface but it was mightily painful because I could really feel the anger of the writer towards Quintus, who was guilty of having deceived the author somehow around 2000 years ago. The Goddess Mater Magna and Attis Dominus were addressed in this prayer and they were asked to punish the culprit with many choice tortures.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell whether the revenge was achieved, as I remained under the earth until 1999 when the beginning of the excavations at Mainz disclosed the sanctuary I was deposited in, the one of Isis Panthea and Mater Magna. I had luck: many of the other tablets I was together with, were found in a melted state. I survived in the deposit and waited patiently to be discovered and studied again.

“I made it!” The Latin prayer for justice descriped in Giuditta Mirizios story stems from the Sanctuary of Mater Magna and Isis Panthea in Mainz and dates back to the 2nd century AD. Its author was the victim of fraud and the request calls upon the Mater Magna to punish the culprit. The lead tablet is very small (27.5 x 10.5 cm) and has multiple inscriptions on the inner surface.

In the past years I am increasingly receiving the attention that I had always deserved: I am not the only one which was treated that way. With me, other pieces from Britain, from Spain, from Italy but also from Greece show the same pattern, both those in Latin as in my case, as well as those in Greek. Moreover, other materials know all too well and can associate with what I have experienced: papyri, ostraca, stones. We are in good company!

Exactly this group of varied material is going to be the focus of research in Heidelberg, not far away from my original home: I am the inspiration for a project centered on the “Prayers for justice”, a corpus which I belong to and Giuditta Mirizio will have the honour of exploring them in the next years. I will try to give her signs to reconstruct my previous life and hope that she will understand the value of the artefacts she will be dealing with.


In December 2019, the Collaborative Research Centre 933 “Material Text Cultures” announced a story contest among its scientists. Here we publish one of the winning stories every week. Today At the mercy of history“ by Giuditta Mirizio.


Der Sonderforschungsbereich 933 „Materiale Textkulturen“ hatte im Dezember 2019 einen Story-Wettbewerb unter seinen Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern ausgeschrieben. An dieser Stelle veröffentlichen wir jede Woche eine der ausgezeichneten Geschichten. Heute „At the mercy of history“ von Giuditta Mirizio.


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