Amuletic Objects in Late Antique Italy and Sicily

Roberts, Barbara (2023). Amuletic Objects in Late Antique Italy and Sicily. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis focuses on amuletic objects in Italy and Sicily dating to between the third to the seventh centuries CE. The words ‘amulet’ and ‘amuletic’ are used in the thesis to refer to a variety of material things used by people in antiquity to protect, heal, or bring good luck. An introductory chapter establishes this specific definition through a close analysis of Greek and Latin texts and a critical assessment of the definitions used by modern historians and archaeologists, challenging the assumption that amuletic objects were only or mostly worn objects like pendants. The remainder of the thesis examines material culture from late antique Italy and Sicily, finding that the category of amuletic object can be applied to things as diverse as inscribed stones, toads, amber, or mosaics. Using a series of case studies, these three central chapters investigate the themes of bodies, graves, and places respectively. Each of these chapters emphasises the importance of relationality and context to how these objects functioned, drawing on current work in the fields of lived and material religion. The chapters combine this theoretical underpinning with close analysis of literary sources and the material objects themselves to offer new insights into how amuletic objects worked. Overall, the thesis moves the conversation about amuletic objects away from questions of identification or typology to instead investigate how these powerful things were entangled with people, the landscape, and the late antique world at large.

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