Archaeological finds at the sanctuary of Magna Mater and Isis in Mainz (Roman Mogontiacum) have significantly contributed to our understanding of cursing in the Roman Empire since the site’s discovery in 1999. To date, thirty-four curse tablets from the sanctuary have been documented and catalogued (Blänsdorf 2012). Scholarship has only recently begun to investigate the ways in which these tablets inform our understanding of religious practices in the Germanic provinces (Haase 2004, Blänsdorf 2010, Gordon 2013). This paper contributes to the discussion of the Mainz curse tablets by offering a social demography of cursing at the temple of Magna Mater and Isis.
The curse tablets found at the sanctuary record the names of forty-six persons who lived in Germania Superior between 65 and 130 CE. This paper begins with an overview of the temple site and cursing practices at the sanctuary of Magna Mater and Isis. Next, I offer a sketch of the social landscape of Mogontiacum, locating it as an important regional hub for commercial, administrative, and military endeavors. Having positioned Mogontiacum as an important regional hub, I turn to a consideration of how the cults of Isis and Magna Mater arrived in the city. I formulate the presence of Eastern cults in Mogontiacum as a unique product of Romanization, one which was tightly connected to the presence of the Roman military. Finally, I turn to a close analysis of the curse tablets themselves. In this section, I consider the linguistic and onomastic markers of indigeneity on the curse tablets and the social networks in which their authors were embedded. I argue, using social network analysis of small groups (Katz et al. 2004), that the authors of the curse tablets were likely persons indigenous to the region who underwent a degree of Romanization, but existed at the lower end of the social hierarchy. The Mainz tablets thus not only offer an important record of temple patronage in Germania Superior, they also witness the religious lives of lower-status persons who are normally excluded from the historical record. In the Mainz tablets, these hidden voices speak loudly about the social relationships that informed their daily lives, even if those relationships were cursed.