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AMULE´TUM (περίαπτον, περίαμμα, φυλακτήριον), a charm attached to the body of a human being or animal to avert calamities or secure good fortune, from the Arabic Hamâlet ( “that which is suspended” ). Comp. for the derivation περίαμμα, περίαπτον, and the ligatura and alligatura of the Christian writers. Amulets are as old as Homer's μῶλυ (Od. 10.292), but the word first occurs in Pliny (Plin. Nat. 29.66, 30.168) and was probably introduced with the lore of the Magi under the early empire, which certainly developed the superstition very largely, as may be judged from the frequent use of Eastern symbols, and even inscriptions on amulets. Earlier we have only names of particular kinds of amulets, such as praebia, and no generic title. Of the use of amulets among the Egyptians, Jews, and other Oriental nations, see Dict. of Bible, s. v.

Large numbers of the more durable amulets are still in existence. The shapes of ancient jewellery and ornaments were in great measure decided by a belief in their magical efficacy, although the notion of the Magi, ridiculed by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 37.124), that each stone had a sympathy for a special device, which, if engraved on it, drew forth its powers, was only expanded in the Middle Ages, and directions for the choice and application of amulets form no small part of many ancient treatises on medicine; indeed it is often difficult to draw the distinction (which did not exist in the minds of many ancient physicians) between a medicine and an amulet. Perhaps those remedies which are to be attached (adalligare) to the person may be regarded as amulets. The belief in the virtues of precious stones especially was widespread, even among the intelligent. Pliny, who himself ridicules the arts of the Magi, explains their influence by saying that sola artium tres alias imperiosissimas humanae mentis complexa in unam se redegit,--medicine, religion, and divination. The chief ancient authorities on the subject are Pliny's Natural History, and on the use of jewels the Pseudo-Orpheus περὶ λίθων (ascribed by Tyrwhitt to an Asiatic Greek of the 4th century A.D., by C. W. King to the author of the Argonautica); Plutarch (or Parthenius), περὶ ποταμῶν; Solinus, de Rebus Mirabilibus; Epiphanius of Constantia, de xii. Gemmis; and Isidore's Origines: and, among later writers, Psellus (a Byzantine of the 11th century) and Marbodus. Bishop of Rennes 1067-81, who usually borrows from Isidore and Orpheus.

In many cases the choice of these ornaments was determined by a desire to draw off the attention of the evil power by a congenial object. Sometimes, again, a fanciful connexion can be traced between the amulet and its object, as when the teeth of animals are used as a charm against dental diseases. But generally the selection seems so entirely arbitrary that, in the following list of the chief materials used as amulets and for other magical purposes, it has not been thought necessary to specify the objects sought by their use.

1. Stones.

Adamas (ἀδάμας), the diamond. Plin. Nat. 20.2; 37.61. The ἀδάμας of Orph. 192 is not a diamond.

Aëtites, the eagle-stone. Plin. Nat. 36.149.

Achates (ἀχάτης), the agate. Orph. 230, 604; Plin. Nat. 37.139; Solin. v. p. 21; Isid. 16.11; Ctesias, fr. 92, Müller. The term is very comprehensive in Latin. These stones had gone out of fashion before Pliny's time for signets, but were still highly valued for their magical properties, which varied according to the markings.

Amethystus (ἀμέθυστος, ἀμέθυσον), the amethyst. Anth. P. 9.748,752. The name is perhaps of Eastern origin, in which case the belief that it counteracted the effects of wine would be due to a popular etymology. Often found with heads, &c., engraved on the centre. These gave it further virtues. Plin. Nat. 37.124.

Batrachites. Plin. Nat. 37.149; Isid. 16.4, 20. Identified by King with a green and yellow jasper, sometimes found cut into a toad-shaped amulet. Hence the mediaeval superstition of the jewel found in the toad's head.

Brontea, which entered into tortoises' heads during thunderstorms. Plin. Nat. 37.150; Isid. 16.15, 24.

Carbunculus (ἄνθραχ, λυχνίτης), our ruby and garnet. Aelian, H. A. viii.; Philostr. Vit. Apoll. 2.14; Psellus, de Lapid. xii.

Chelidonia. Plin. Nat. 37.155; Isid. 16.9. 5.

Chelonia. Supposed to be the eye of the Indian tortoise. Plin. Nat. 37.155.

Chelonitis. Ibid.

Chloritis, produced in the gizzard of the motacilla (water-wagtail). Ibid. § 156.

Corallium (κουράλιον). Orph. 570; Plin. Nat. 30.22; Solin. 2, 41.

Crystallum (κρύσταλλος), rock crystal. Orph. 170; Spartianus, Did. Jul.

Draconitis or dracontia. Plin. Nat. 37.158.

Eumitres, used in the worship of Belus. Ibid. § 160.

Gagates (γαγάτης), jet. Orph. 468; Plin. Nat. 36.142.

Haematites (αἱματίτης). Orph. 658; Plin. Nat. 37.169.

Heliotropium, bloodstone. Plin. Nat. 37.165. Used with the plant of the same name. Isid. 16.7; Solin. 27.

Hyaenia, found in hyaena's eye. Plin. Nat. 37.169.

Iaspis (ἴασπις), the chalcedony, a very common Eastern amulet. Ibid. § 115; Orph. 264.

Magnes (μάγνης), loadstone. Orph. 302.

Molochiles (μολοχάς), green jasper. Plin. Nat. 37.114.

Opsianum (λίθος Ὀψιανός), obsidian. Orph. 282.

Opalus (ὀπάλλων), opal. Ibid. 279. The belief that it was beneficial to the eyes probably arose from a fanciful derivation: hence Marbodus calls it ophthalmius.

Ovum anguinum (σιδηρίτης or ὀφίτης), serpentine marble. Supposed to be formed from serpents' froth.

Παντάρβης, ruby. Anth. P. 9.490; Philostr. 3, 46 ; Heliod. 8.11; Ctesias, p. 265.

Prasius (πράσιος), plasma. Orph. 749.

Sarda, sardius (σάρδιος, σάρδιον), the Oriental carnelian, which became the favourite stone for engraving. Epiphan. de xii. gemmis, 1.

Sucinum, amber. Plin. Nat. 37.51.

Topazus (τοπάζιος). Orph. 277; Epiphan. 2. [p. 1.119]

2. Metals.

Copper. Plin. Nat. 34.134.

Iron. Ibid. § 151.

Gold. Ibid. 33.85.

3. Plants.

Laurus (δάφνη), the bay-tree, especially efficacious because sacred to Apollo. Used in lustrations : Eur. Ion. 80-121; Juv. 2.158; Plin. Nat. 15.138. Chewed to give prophetic inspiration: Hes. Theogon. 30 schol.; Soph. Fragm. 777, Dind.; Boisson, Anecd. 3.385; Lucian, Bis. Acc. 1; Tib. 2.5, 63; Juv. 7.19. Used strictly as an amulet: Theophr. Char. xvi.; Plin. Nat. 15. § § 133-7; Geopon. 11.2. Hence the proverb δαφνίνην φορεῖ βακτηρίαν, of a man who has a charmed life: Zenob. 3.12. Cp. Ov. Fasti, 3.137; Etym. M., s. ἀντήνους.

Cynocephalia or osiritis. Plin. Nat. 30.18.

Elleborus, veratrum (ἑλλέβορος), a charm as well as a medicine. Plin. Nat. 25. § § 49, 50.

Ficus (συκῆ). Geopon. 11.2; Plut. Symp. 4, 2.

Σκίλλα, the squill. Diphil. Mart. 3 ; Theophr. Char. xvi.; Diosc. 2.202; Plin. Nat. 20.101. Mentioned in Geopon. 15.1 with ἐβένος, ἀσπάλαθος, and the scented ἀναγαλλίς.

Spina alba, hawthorn. Ov. Fast. 6.130; and the closely allied ῥαμνός, Diosc. 1.110.

4. Animals.

The ant, the wasp, the caterpillar, the snail, the louse, the spider,. used as amulets against fevers and mental disorders. Plin. Nat. 28.100.7; 30.100.10, 11.

The ass's testicles: Plin. Nat. 28.261. The horned wild ass: Philostr. Vit. Apoll. 4.2.

The bat. Plin. Nat. 29.83.

The chameleon's tongue, paws, shoulders, and tail. Ibid. 28. § § 112-18; Marc. Emp. viii.; Scrib. Larg. Comp. 38; Cael. Aurel. 1.6; Gel. 10.12.

The dog's gall. Plin. Nat. 30.32.

The fox's tongue and genitals. Marc. Emp. viii. p. 66; Plin. Nat. 28. § § 166, 172.

The goat's brain, milk, and excrement. Plin. Nat. 28.259; Sext. Plat. 5.2.

The hen's bones. Plin. Nat. 30.26.

The horse's teeth. Ibid. 28.258.

The hyaena's teeth, eye, spinal marrow, excrements, &c. Ibid. § § 92-106; Galen, Ther. ix. p. 942; Marc. Empir. viii. p. 57, xxxvi. p. 240; Ael. NA 6.22; Plut. Symp. 4, 2.

The mole's teeth. Plin. Nat. 30. § § 19, 20.

The owl's gizzard. Ibid. 29.81.

The rat's ears and liver. Ibid. 29.60, 30.93; Plin. Valer. 3.6.

The raven's and the sparrow's excrements. Plin. Nat. 30.26; Marc. Emp. xii. p. 85; Sext. Plat. 2.6, 3.

The serpent's tooth and heart. Plin. Nat. 30. § § 22, 25.

The wolf's flesh, fat, and head, &c. Ibid. 28. § § 157, 247, 257; Sext. Plat. de lup. 8.1.

And many species of fishes and other aquatic animals, especially the frog, mentioned in Plin. Nat. 32. § § 6-9, 74, 81-2, 113-16, 119, 139.

Certain parts and secretions of the human body were also used.

One class of amulets especially reminds us of mediaeval superstitions, perhaps not yet extinct. The blood of gladiators (Plin. Nat. 28.4; Diosc. 2.97; Cels. 3.23; Tert. Apol. 9; Scrib. Larg. 2.13, 17; Al. Trall. 1.15); the hair of a man who has been crucified (Plin. Nat. 28.41); the rope or a nail (Ibid. 46); the hand or eye-tooth from a corpse (Ibid. 45); the marrow from the legs and the brain of infants (Ibid. 4); the human teeth (Ibid. 41, 45); hair (Ibid. 41),--were also efficacious: and a calculus was an amulet for the calculosus, and in other cases (Ibid. 42).

Artificial shapes of amulets.

Besides assuming the various forms of personal ornaments with which we are familiar--of necklaces

Amulets. (Daremberg and Saglio.)

laces or pendants [CREPUNDIA; LUNULAE; PHALERAE], rings, bracelets, earrings, hairpins, &c.--amulets

Amulet, suspended by chain. (
Bullet. dell' Inst. Arch.,
Rome, 1836, p. 149.)

were attached to a sort of belt which was passed over one shoulder and under the [p. 1.120]opposite arm, as in the first figure, or in the shape of thin plates (bracteae) were sewn on garments. If the amulet could not be easily introduced into an ornament, it was often enclosed in a bag or in a bulla of gold or leather. (See the figure above.) [BULLA] The second cut represents an amulet with chain to be worn across the shoulder. It was found at Petillia in Southern Italy, and is a thin gold plate with a metrical inscription in Greek.

The formulas of incantations called Ephesiae litterae (Ἐφέσια γράμματα) belonged for the most part to the later empire, although one preserved in the Museum of Syracuse is attributed by M. Labatut to the 2nd cent. B.C. It is a plate of terra-cotta, covered with an inscription for the most part unintelligible. It was probably hung up in a house. (Athen. 12.548 c; Phot. Lex. p. 40; Eustath. ad Od 19.247.)

To gain good fortune and protection, small images of the deities were carried, especially of the averrunci, and in later times still more commonly those of the deities whose worship was introduced from the East. Thus Sulla carried in his breast and worshipped an image of Apollo (Plut. Sull. 29), and we find many figures of Diana of Ephesus, Mithras, Isis, Anubis, and especially Serapis and Harpocrates, who as god of silence restrained ill-omened utterances. We find in the museums figures, usually female, sometimes naked, sometimes clothed, which guard silence by having one hand applied to the lips, the other behind their back. In the instance figured

Amulet. (D. & S.)

here, the hook by which it was suspended is visible. Sometimes again a representation is made in a precious material of an animal, &c., which was regarded as an efficacious amulet; for instance, a hellebore flower in gold.

Collection of Amulets. (D. & S.)

On the contrary, it was a very common practice to avert ill luck by wearing some ill-omened, grotesque, or obscene shape which might instantly catch the “evil eye” of the malign power and divert its malice. [FASCINUM]

It was sought to increase the effect by combining several magical symbols in one amulet, or by grouping many together on the statue of a deity (panthea signa, Auson. Epigr. 30), or as in the last figure in the preceding column, which represents a terra-cotta plate; or a number of amulets were strung together in a necklace.

Closely connected with the subject are the statues of gods placed in front of houses and temples (e. g. the Athenian Hermae) and the magical symbols on lamps, furniture, and buildings.

Christian legislation and teaching had to carry on a perpetual warfare against the use of amulets and the abuses connected with them.

(The most available accounts of the subject are O. Jahn, Ueber den bösen Blick in Berichte der sächsischen Gesellschaft, 1855; C. W. King, Precious Stones and Metals, and Gems and Decorative Stones; Marquardt, Röm. Alterth. vi. p. 104 ff.; M. Labatut, in Daremberg and Saglio, s.v. from which the latter part of the article is drawn; Dict. of Christ. Antiq., s. v.)


hide References (20 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (20):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.292
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 20.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 25
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 28
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 28.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 28.41
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.26
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 32
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.51
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 20.101
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.22
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.32
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.61
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.12
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 29
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
    • Aelian, De Natura Animalium, 6.22
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