The Roman Empire was famous for many things–the Colosseum, gladiators, togas, and intricately built roads and aqueducts. But another thing they were known for was their curse tablets.
Curse tablets were a way for ancient Greeks and Romans to express displeasure toward others. People who felt they had suffered injustices of some sort would inscribe a curse on small rectangular sheets of metal or lead as a means of revenge.
Lead was a popular medium for curse tablets because it was soft and easy to mark. Folks could scratch their message onto lead sheets with a stylus or other pointy tool. Then, it could be heated up and rolled into a scroll or pierced with nails to bind it and conceal the writing.
Additionally, lead was in major abundance in ancient Greece and Rome. They participated in lots of silver mining, and lead is a byproduct of silver, so that meant there was plenty of it available for usage.
Pottery shards and papyrus scraps were materials that were also used for curse tablets, but they were not as common as lead.
When a curse tablet was completed, it was thrown into a well, a deep pool/spring, or a newly dug grave to ensure its delivery to the Underworld. Once the gods received it, they would carry out the punishment.
Citizens from all walks of life indulged in the practice. Curses were made against thieves, murderers, enemies, and rivals, whether they were an opposing political party or an ex-lover who was the cause of a devastating heartbreak. They were often threatened with bodily harm, mental suffering, or death.
The educated and wealthy could handwrite their own curses, but the majority of people needed some help with their curses. Professionals could be hired to draft up curses.
The texts usually followed the same formula. First would be written the name of one of the gods, then the desired punishment, followed by the victim’s name and what they did to anger the curser.