88 magic nails about 44 burials

Sagalassos, I chose you to end this list.

“Many thousands of burials have been excavated from across the Roman world, documenting a variety of funerary practices and rites. Individual burials, however, sometimes stand out for their atypical characteristics. The authors report the discovery of a cremation burial from ancient Sagalassos that differs from contemporaneous funerary deposits. In this specific context, the cremated human remains were not retrieved but buried in situ, surrounded by a scattering of intentionally bent nails, and carefully sealed beneath a raft of tiles and a layer of lime. For each of these practices, textual and archaeological parallels can be found elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean world, collectively suggesting that magical beliefs were at work.”—”Magical practices? A non-normative Roman imperial cremation at Sagalassos

“Occasionally, the archaeological record allows us a glimpse beyond the mere material and into the mindset of people in the past. A cremation burial from the eastern necropolis of Sagalassos, south-west Turkey, provides one such opportunity, documenting funerary practices that clearly deviate from other contemporaneous burials at the site. Such irregular practices strongly suggest that a non-normative approach was taken to the burial of this particular individual, inviting us to seek an explanation based in ‘unsanctioned’ (Phillips Reference Phillips III, Faraone and Obbink1991: 262) or unconventional liturgy. Specifically, we look to a set of beliefs that the former inhabitants of Sagalassos would probably have labelled ‘magic’. But what purpose did magic fulfil in ancient communities in general, and in this case in particular? In this article, we seek to address these questions by deconstructing the unique characteristics of this particular burial and contextualising it within current research on non-normative burials and the materiality of ancient magical practices.”

Hermetic Library Omnium 88 Magic Nails About 44 Burials 15mar2023

“There are many examples from cemeteries throughout the Roman Empire where the presence of one or more nails cannot be explained in purely utilitarian terms (e.g. as part of coffins, biers or grave goods). These nails appear to never have been used or, conversely, were unusable due to excessive size, unsuitable materials such as gold, silver or ceramic (‘imitation’ nails), old, dysfunctional (‘dead’) nails, and intentionally twisted nails.”

“Almost all the nails recorded along the edges of the Sagalassos cremation clearly served no functional purpose, being either previously used nails or intentionally pinched and/or bent. These nails differ from the intact examples found elsewhere in the cemetery and used for practical purposes. Given that nails were not used in the construction of pyres, and their distribution in this particular context suggests that they did not originate from a funeral bier, coffin or any other wooden object, we argue that they were intentionally scattered around the burial.

Ancient literary sources provide accounts of nails being used in magical contexts as neutralising charms against a wide variety of evil influences. Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), for example, recommended fixing nails from tombs into a threshold as a form of protection against nightmares. There are also references to the potential of nails to ward off diseases: Livy (64 or 59 BC–AD 17) remarks how ‘a pestilence had once been assuaged by the dictator driving in a nail’, while Pliny the Elder claimed that an iron nail could cure epilepsy when driven into the ground at the spot first touched by the patient’s head.”