ancient amulet, magic
Photo Credit: W. Machowski Joachim Sliwa, artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow at Paphos Agora

The archaeology world has been buzzing lately over a 1,500 year old ‘magical’ amulet which was uncovered in the ancient city of Nea Paphos in southwest Cyprus. The amulet, which was first unearthed during an excavation known as the Paphos Agora Project in 2011, has revealed some interesting implications through recent study.

Researchers have revealed that amulets were often used as good luck or protection charms during the 5th  and 6th century Byzantine Empire, during which the piece originated. It is however, the markings on this particular find that make it not only unique but also quite intriguing . The two sided token contains etchings from a blend of religious traditions so unique that some archaeologists have suggested that it’s creator may not have actually had a complete grasp of their meaning.

One side of the amulet features Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence, seated over the mummy of the Egyptian god Osiris, which is depicted lying in a boat. The scene also contains etchings of a crocodile, a rooster, a snake,  a half moon and star, and what is believed to be a Cynocephalus, a creature with the body of a man and the head of a dog. The opposite side of the token bears a 59-letter Greek inscription called a ‘palindrome’, which means that it reads the same way both forwards and backwards. The letters in Greek read:









In English, the phrase translates as, “Yahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.” Yahweh or YHWH as His name is written by Jewish followers, is the name of the monotheistic deity of the Abrahamic faiths which include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

 The blend of traditions is interesting, researchers point out, due to the fact that  Christianity had been declared the official religion of the Byzantine Empire by the 5th century, with various bans discouraging traditional polytheistic worship. It’s obvious, one archaeologist says however, that the owner of the amulet did not care. Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, professor at Jagiellonian University and leader of the team who made the discovery, recently told LiveScience that the amulet provides evidence that, “Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use.”

The creator’s nonchalance, some archaeologists suggest, appears to have applied as much to traditional theology as it did to his views of monotheism.  Dr. Joachim Sliwa, a professor at Jagiellonian University’s Institute of Archaeology, recently wrote in a paper concerning the amulet, “It must be stated that the depiction is fairly unskilled and schematic. It is iconographically based on Egyptian sources, but these sources were not fully understood by the creator of the amulet.”

Not only was the creator’s blend of religious sources a bit unusual, his depiction of the Greek deities in particular was anything but traditional, which is what led Sliwa to believe that some may have been mistakes. Harpocrates, Sliwa points out, is generally depicted sitting in a lotus flower with his legs drawn in to his chest rather than on the stool the artist assigned him.

Additionally, the Greek god is usually depicted receiving the adoration of members of a dog-headed race of men, known as cynocephalus or cynocephali collectively, which some ancient accounts insist actually existed. Rather than raising his paws in classical admiration however, the cynocephalus depicted in the amulet seems to be mimicking theHarpocrates’ gesture or raising his hand toward his mouth or face.

The professor also pointed out that the lines along the bodies of both Harpocrates and  the Cynocephalus seem to indicate that they too have been mummified, along with Osiris. While the mummification of the Cynocephalus is not unheard of, the bandaging has “no justification in the case of Harpocrates,” Śliwa wrote.

Whether the amulet’s creator was a novice or an expert attempting to relay complex secrets which have since been lost in the annals of history, we may never know. None the less, his magic of this ancient amulet is guaranteed to live on through the world of archaeology.

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