The Center for Tebtunis Papyri logoMagic, Medicine and Science header


This is an archived exhibit of The Bancroft Library, University California, Berkeley.

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A virtual display based on CTP exhibition curated by Elisabeth O'Connell


It is not possible to neatly distinguish the terms "religion," "magic," and "medicine" in antiquity. They all point to means by which people tried to understand and influence their natural, supernatural and social environments. If we cannot determine where one category shades into the next, neither can we locate the center of each term. A demonstration: a third century woman attempts to avert fever by appealing to a supernatural intermediary to protect her (seeP.Tebt. II 275). Would you characterize this as religion, magic or medicine?

The objects and texts excavated from the temple, town and cemeteries of Tebtunis in 1899/1900 offer a glimpse into the system of belief and practice of the town's ancient inhabitants.

When the Romans took formal control of Egypt after the death of Antony and Cleopatra VII in 30 BCE, they inherited a land that had been ruled by Greek-speaking monarchs (the Ptolemies) for 300 years. In general, Greeks in Egypt formed an economically privileged class, which remained parallel and distinct from that of the Egyptians in many ways. Roman citizens became the new elite in the first century BCE, but they did not settle in Egypt in large numbers, and Greek remained the administrative language of Egypt as it had in other Roman provinces in the East. Our subject affords the opportunity to explore ways in which Greek and Egyptian life functioned under the Roman Empire–that is, in a multi-cultural society not so unlike our own.