Bath’s Roman curse tablets have been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register of outstanding documentary heritage.
The 130 Roman curse tablets can be seen at The Roman Baths, which is managed by Bath & North East Somerset Council.
They are the personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter, and cast into the hot spring at Bath, and date from the 2nd-4th century AD. The earliest known surviving prayers to a deity in Britain, they are messages in Latin to the Roman goddess Sulis Minerva, from people who had suffered an injustice, asking for wrongs to be put right and for revenge.
The tablets are extremely difficult to read and translate and some are quite fierce, such as the person who, seeking revenge for theft of a bronze vessel, asks that it be filled with the blood of the thief. One curse was written in British Celtic, the only text known to survive in that language. Another tablet contains the earliest known use of the word ‘Christian’ in Britain.
The curse tablets are the only objects from Roman Britain to have been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK register, which aims to raise awareness of some of the UK’s exceptional documentary riches. They were one of nine new inscriptions to the register and they join the 41 already listed.
The award was made on Thursday June 19 at a ceremony in Edinburgh, organised by the Scottish Council on Archives and hosted by Lloyds Banking Group.
Cllr Ben Stevens, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet member for Sustainable Development (LibDem, Widcombe) accepted the certificate of inscription on behalf of the Council. He said: “The decision by UNESCO to inscribe the Roman curse tablets from Bath on the Memory of the World register reflects the very special nature of this collection, and is another reason for local people to take pride in the exceptional quality of our local heritage here in Bath & North East Somerset.”
UNESCO established the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme in 1992. The programme vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.
About the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme:
• United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations and was established in 1945.
• The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally-recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.
• To learn more about the MoW programme visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/flagship-project-activities/memory-of-the-world/homepage/.
Full list of 2014 Awards:
• Carmichael Watson Collection: The collection of pioneering folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912), is one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world. Carmichael spent over 50 years recording all manner of Scottish Highland Gaelic lore such as prayers, blessings, charms, stories, songs, folk customs, proverbs and unusual vocabulary. It is of great value both to researchers and the Highland communities from which it was gathered and has greatly influenced concepts of ‘spiritual Celts’ and ‘Celticism’. Held by Edinburgh University Library.
• Hepworth Cinema Interviews: In 1916 Cecil Hepworth, a pioneer of cinematography filmed well known persons ‘talking‘ to the camera and in this instance making personal statements about the War such as Lloyd George, and Herbert Asquith. It was the start of the media interview, now a staple of TV reporting. Held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.
• Neath Abbey Ironworks: Neath Abbey Ironworks in South Wales was in the forefront of development of beam engines for the South Wales coalfield and built one of the first railway locomotives in 1829. The collection includes 8,000 engineering drawings (1792-1882) and demonstrates the contribution of South Wales to Britain’s industrial revolution. Held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
• Robert Hooke’s Diary, 1672-1683: The private diary of this major scientific figure. It covers all aspects of his life and scientific research, including experimenting with his own body, his relationships with other well-known individuals at that time, his work with Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire and a detailed description of life in seventeenth century London. Held by London Metropolitan Archives.
• Roman Curse Tablets from Bath: Personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter, and cast into the hot spring at Bath, dating from the 2nd-4th century AD. They give an insight into the lives of ordinary people. One tablet is currently unique in that it is believed to be made up of Celtic words written in the Latin alphabet. Another curse tablet contains what is currently the earliest known reference to Christianity in Britain. Held by Bath and North East Somerset Council.
• Royal Mail Archive 1636-1969: From 1635 to the modern day The Royal Mail has dealt with essential aspects of everyday life, from broadcasting and communications to banking and employment. It documents the organisation’s unique history, from employment records to stamp artwork, and is one of the oldest business archives in the world. The collection covers everything from the impact of post on peoples’ lives, to an outstanding archive of stamp designs. Held by the British Postal Museum and Archive.
• Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (1823-1854): Describes the foundation of what became the RNLI, the first national lifeboat institution in the world. Held by the RNLI.
• Shakespeare Documents: The key archive sources for understanding the life of the world’s most celebrated poet and playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). These unique handwritten documents, dating from within Shakespeare’s lifetime, provide an evidential basis for his life – his birth, death, family affairs, property and business dealings, as well as his context within a period of history that saw major changes in religious and political society. Held by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the UK National Archives.
• West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, records 1814-1991: The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was one of the World’s most famous and active research institutions, aiming for the systematic study of the insane brain. The research work and the resulting scientific developments were ground breaking and instigated global scientific changes in the treatment of the mentally ill. The records chart all aspects of life at the hospital and include over 5000 photographs of patients from the late 1860s onwards along with detailed patient notes. Held by West Yorkshire Archive Service.
To view the UK register and see all the inscriptions including the new inscriptions of 2014 visit: