Amulet against a disease

BKT X 27 (P. 17082)


Especially in times of crisis, people need succour, whether it is of a spiritual nature or expressed concretely in the concern and compassion of their closest fellow human beings. The Berlin Papyrus Collection preserves countless documents from Greco-Roman and Byzantine antiquity that illustrate this theme in very different ways.

In antiquity, people hoped for divine assistance and protection in many emergency situations. So it is not surprising that amulets for protection against illness or for healing have survived. These were rolled or folded into small packets and worn on a rope or in a small container on the body.

In the dry climate of Egypt, among many others, the Christian amulet presented here was also preserved. It is written on parchment. The traces of the original foldings of this leaf can still be seen very clearly. Three horizontal and two vertical foldings are visible. The parchment has broken off at the uppermost horizontal folding, so that the first visible line is only partially preserved. At least one further line is missing above it. When folded, this amulet resulted in a small package that was about 4.5 cm wide and 1.5 cm high.

The amulet dates from the 6th century AD, as can be determined from the writing. At that time, Egypt belonged to the Byzantine Empire. The text was written by an untrained person. This is evident not only in the cursory writing of the Greek letters, but above all in the use of the Greek language. Again and again, parts of words are missing. So it remains questionable whether the writer understood what he was writing at all.

The amulet was supposed to cure its wearer of an illness. The owner is not named. The amulet is therefore not personalised. The wish for healing is embedded in an invocation to divine power. It begins with a trishagion, a threefold sacred call to Jesus Christ, who is asked for healing. At the end, the amulet culminates in the cry „Jesus Christ victorious!“ and is concluded by two crosses and two staurograms.

But it is not only the divine power that is called for help. The amulet becomes much more specific. The disease is first threatened with the horror of God, which is supposed to banish it. In the part of the text that is no longer preserved, it is very likely that it is already asked to disappear, as is known from better preserved amulets. Here the idea of the disease as a demon, which was widespread in antiquity, becomes clear. The illness is directly addressed as a being (demon). It is capable of human emotion and can thus fear the horror of God. Unfortunately, due to the fragmentary state of the amulet, it has not been preserved which disease is specifically addressed in this text. Comparable and better preserved amulets are usually directed against shivering and fever.

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