Earlier this year while we were in the UK we had the opportunity to visit the Roman baths at Bath. It was an incredible site with its steaming baths and grand columns. But the artifacts that captured my interest the most were some of the tiniest. At the bottom of one of the baths more than 130 lead and pewter plates with writing scratched into them had been discovered many years earlier.
Archaeologists think that the messages were curses, written by people who felt they had been wronged, with the details of the wrong explained on the little piece of metal. In response to the wrong, the victim asked the goddess to curse the perpetrator and right the wrong which had been done. It's thought that the person would throw the lead curse into the sacred pool to invoke the goddess to act on the curse. People would even list more than one possible suspect at times, just to make sure that all their bases were covered!
I spent a lot of time examining them through the glass. The fact I could see something someone had written two thousand years ago, read the translation and understand what they were saying was thrilling to me! But what interested me the most was what the messages said about the people who wrote them. The things they were complaining about seemed so small and insignificant - petty crimes like thefts of clothes while they were at the baths. And yet, these tablets were asking for the culprit's blood!
Minerv(a)e de(ae) Suli donavi furem qui caracallam meam involavit si ser(v)us si liber si baro si mulier hoc donum non redemat nessi sangu(i)n[e] suo.
"To the goddess Sulis Minerva I have given the thief who stole my cloak; whether that person be slave or free, man or woman, may this gift not be redeemed except with that person's blood."
On one level, there was something I could identify with here - people two thousand years ago were obviously not that different from people now. Little things can feel quite significant. Small matters can blow out of proportion!
On another level, it seemed to be a very obvious point at which the religion of the Romans was quite different from the message of Christianity. I'm glad I believe a gospel that teaches and commands me to forgive the wrongs done to me by others; the last thing I need is a religion that gives me a vehicle for validating every petty instinct of vindictiveness within me and enacting magical curses on the heads of all my enemies. (Trust me, I wouldn't need much encouragement!!)