Publication Date

Spring 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Jonathan Roth


curse tablets, Greece, love, magic, Rome

Subject Areas

Ancient History; Classical Studies; History


This thesis analyzes the Greco-Roman amatory defixiones, or curse tablets, and binding spells from the fourth century BCE to the fourth century CE in order to investigate the existence of romantic love in the Mediterranean Basin. Binding spells provide a unique opportunity for cultural analysis, for they were popular with all levels of society, both genders and all sexualities. Three categories of amatory spells prevalent in ancient society (agoge, separation, and philia) undergo examination to establish romantic love as a sentiment separate from eros and philia and in opposition of the currently prevailing relationship theory of "power and penetration." Agoge spells called a lover forth, while separation spells blocked rival suitors from visiting the shared beloved. Philia spells were used to increase good will and affection towards those who cast them. Tantamount is the examination of language, duration of binding wished, and specific desires of the clients ordering love spells. Additionally, the role of magicians in society and courtesans as magic workers is discussed.