The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Preliminary workshop program Magical Gems in their Contexts - Budapest 16-18 February 2012

Preliminary workshop program
Magical Gems in their Contexts
Budapest, 16-18 February

Day 1

Lunch together, welcome

Setting up contexts for magical gems:
Erika Zwierlein-Diehl: Dating magical gems
Richard Gordon


Attilio Mastrocinque: L'iconografia di Ialdabaoth (working title)
Veronique Dasen:  Trasfert des images (working title)
Challenge day: problematic magical gems and close viewing of some magical gems in the Museum


Day 2

Magical gems in archaeological context:
Simone Michel: An exhibition on magical gems in the Malerwinkelhaus Museum
Shua Amorai-Stark: Selected unpublished magical stones and rings from Caesarea Maritima
Despina Ignatiadou: Two magical gems from the Roman cemetery in Thessaloniki


The Jewish and Christian context:
Gideon Bohak: Magical gems in Judaism
Felicity Harley-McGowan: Jesus the magician? Engraved gems and the representation of crucifixion in Late Antiquity
Árpád Miklós Nagy: Gemmes magiques judaisantes


Joachim Quack: From Egyptian traditions to magical gems. Possibilities and pitfalls in scholarly analysis
Maria Nilsson and John Ward: Mason or priest? A comparison between Graeco-Roman signs on magical amulets and symbols in Egyptian quarries
Kirsten Dzwiza: The writing of charakteres on magical gems – decoration patterns, contexts and techniques
Magical gems and healing:
Christopher Faraone: Women and children first: the protective range of amulet cords, crepundia and little crescent moons
Valérie Martini: Gemmes magiques et pouvoirs thérapeutiques: les compétances guérisseuses d’Isis et Sérapis
Eleni Tsatsou: Uterine amulets: amulets that protect the uterus or that reinforces erotic desire?


Day 3

Magical gems and literature:
György Németh: The discovery of a god: Heliorus
Sonia Macrì: The immaterial gemstones of Graeco-Roman literature
Paolo Vitellozzi: Su alcune gemme magiche della collezione del Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria di Perugia (working title)


Magical gems in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages:
Jeffrey Spier: Solomon and Asmodeus on Graeco-Roman magical amulets and rings
Genevra Kornbluth: Pilulae and bound pendants: Roman and Merovingian amulets
Jennifer Wynne Hellwarth: “For glysteryng of the ryche ston”: Near East magical gems and the sexual body in the Middle English romance Emaré


The Cambell Bonner Magical gems database and closing remarks

Each thematic block will end with a section talk.
For the Challenge day you are encouraged to bring any problem: a problematic gem, a difficult iconography, puzzling sources or anything you would like to share and hear the others’ opinion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Sirius Project and Magical Gems Budapest 2012

It was recently confirmed by the organiser, and the Sirius Project’s team is now looking forward to participating in the upcoming international conference on magical gems in Budapest early next year. In accordance with the call for papers:

Magical Gems in Context: International Conference
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, 16-18 February 2012

Magical gems are amulets carved into precious stones, made mostly in the period of the Roman Empire (2nd-4th centuries AD). They have three special characteristics that distinguish them from other gems and talismans: they contain magical words and spells written in Greek; they sometimes have magical signs (charaktéres) on them; finally, they present unique iconographical schemes, with non-Olympic gods conceived by religious thinkers and magi of Egyptian, Jewish and Near-Eastern tradition. Their makers could freely choose from the elements of these cultures. These talismans were used chiefly to avert diseases and demons or to obtain love and success. Today there are about 4000 pieces preserved in private and public collections worldwide. Their importance is invaluable in order to understand ancient religious beliefs, medicine and magic. Periodically they have been the focus of interest in European culture (as in the 17th century and the beginning of the 20th century), and as today’s raising scholarly interest attests, they are back in the limelight.

The topic to be presented by the Sirius Project deals with a comparison of Graeco-Roman quarry markings/symbols and marks found on contemporary magical gems. Our abstract reads as follows:

The Sirius Project’s Abstract

Using Graeco-Roman amulets and gems as a starting point for comparison and stylistic identification this paper deals with the exoteric and esoteric value (s) of magical signs located in the Egyptian sandstone quarries of Gebel el-Silsila. While individual signs on talismans have been recognized by generations of scholars for their magical connotations, those of Egyptian stone quarries have been dismissed as so called masons’ marks, believed to signify workman groups or individual contractors. A second, now disregarded theory was put forward by early archaeologists such as Georges Legrain, suggesting a linguistic application: “It is by forming a sort of Corpus of the inscriptions that we shall be the better enabled to arrive at the conclusion that these singular characters are probably not simply stone-workers’ marks, but are real characters which have served to transcribe a foreign language that the future may perhaps enable us to understand” (Legrain, G., ‘Inscriptions in the Quarries of el Hosh’, Society of Biblical Archaeology 1906, 25f.).

Overview of main quarry in Silsila East. ã The Sirius Project

Overview of section of quarries in Silsila West. ã The Sirius Project
Here referred to as ‘symbols’ in accordance with the semiotic terminology, we would like to present a third option based on the comparison with magical amulets, being contemporary with the quarry symbols. We suggest a most similar magical function, as did Sir Arthur Evans when interpreting symbols located on Minoan palaces at Crete. As such, this paper will present a variation of quarry symbols documented personally in situ, individual and in groups, as well as symbols located on temple structure and as graffiti. The images and results presented are included in an ongoing project aiming to catalogue and analyze these symbols for the first time in a comprehensive form. The symbols are studied according to an interdisciplinary approach, combining the concepts of classicism, Egyptology and Art History with an iconographical and semantic analysis of form and appearance and an iconological and hermeneutic analysis of meaning and function. Based on a classification system, which establishes a typology, the aim is to explore the symbols’ fundamental function and cultural position in the society. The aim is also to identify the person or group (the creator) behind the symbols in order to reassess the question of a possible wider continuum of usage. Therefore this paper functions as an introduction to the research project rather than a completed corpus. This paper will include also a brief comparison with the British medieval templar church of Garway indicating a continuation of styles and function into a new historical and religious era, thus including also a wider cultural spectrum of application.

Quarry symbol (star) at Elephantine Island. ã The Sirius Project
Quarry symbol (trident) at Elephantine Island. ã The Sirius Project
Quarry symbol (swastika) at Philae. ã The Sirius Project

Group of quarry symbols at Nag el Hammam. ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbol (lotus) at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbol (lotus) and pilgrims' gouges at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbols and graffito Sarapis at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.