The project Magica Levantina (ML) aims at the edition of mainly unpublished Greek magical texts from towns in the Levant in the late Roman Imperial and early Byzantine periods. Most of the texts are curses inscribed on sheets of lead but also some protective charms inscribed on sheets of gold and silver.

Print editions are planned to appear in two volumes of the series Papyrolo­gica Coloni­en­sia. The ML Website, which is being developed as a complement to these volumes, will doc­u­ment the inscribed objects photographically and include Greek transcriptions and English translations of their texts.

Since decipherment of the inscribed objects usually requires constantly varying angles of light and magnification, the editors have depended to a very large extent on photographic documentation made by the recently developed technology called Reflectance Transforma­tion Imaging (RTI). One of the main features of the ML Website will be to make available to the public—for the first time in the fields of Greek and Latin epigraphy—the RTI documen­tation that the editors themselves used to read the texts. The ML Website will also include a selection of supporting photo­graphic material showing images of the rolled tablets before they were opened (if such images are available) or, occasionally, of other interesting features such as the materia magica that was found with a few of the tablets. The transcriptions and translations are currently being enter­ed in EpiDoc.

When ML Vol. I has gone to press, the correspond­ing documen­tation will be made available on the ML Website. The new material will include inter alia:

  • most of the leaden curse tablets from the Syrian towns of Antioch and Daphne that were found during excavations in 1934 and 1935 conducted by W.A. Camp­bell on behalf of a Franco-American consortium of institutions and that are now housed in the Princeton Art Museum.
  • all of the legible leaden curse tablets of the Israel Antiquities Authority that had been found in a well at Promontory Palace in Caesarea (Israel) during excavations conducted in 1994 by Barbara Burrell and Kathryn Gleasen on behalf of ###.

Technical methodologies

The digital edition of Magica Levantina is encoded in EpiDoc, which is a subset of Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and consists of recommendations for the structured markup of epigraphic documents (see https://sourceforge.net/p/epidoc/wiki/Home/).

The present model assumes that each item is transcribed within a single XML file.

The digital edition of each magical text has four parts: (1) the metadata, annotated by the tag <TeiHeader>; (2) the transcription, annotated by the tag <div type="transcription"< (3) Apparatus criticus, annotated by the tag <div type="apparatus_criticus">; and (4) the translation, annotated by the tag <div type="translation"<.


The transciptions of epigraphical and papyrological documents because they are frequently damaged and partly illegible have their own problems and require special editorial signs. Magica Levantina, like many epigraphical publications today, use the editorial conventions first established by papyrologists in 1931 at a conference in Leiden. The Leiden editorial conventions that we use include the following for which

[αβγ] Lost, restored by the editor, tagged <supplied reason="lost">
[] Lost, number of letters estimated <supplied reason="lost">
<αβγ> Characters erroneously omitted by the scribe, added by modern editor: ;supsupplied>
{αβγ} Superfluous letters removed by the editor: <surplus>
〚αβγ〛Erased: <del rend="ʺerasure"ʺ>αβ</del>
α̣β̣γ̣ Uncertain or damaged lette< <unclear>

The element <ab< (anonymous block) is used to define the text blocks. is used at the beginning of line and an attribute is added to indicate the number of the lines: >lb n=”1”/<.


Metadata are encoded within a >teiHeader< element. The elements that are itemized include: Object type, material, provenance, specific find spot, word designs, drawings, magical signs, materia magica, etc.


RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging)

The digital edition of Magica Levantina also complements the print edition by providing photographic documentation of the inscribed objects themselves. Thus while the metadata, transcriptions and translations presented on the Magica Levantina Website replicate material in the print edition, the photographic material is available on the Website only and thus make it irreplaceable.

The photographic documentation is of two sorts: images captured by the technology known as Re­flec­tance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and “traditional” digital images presented as JPGs.

RTI is a fairly new technology that is ideally suited for the presentation and examination of objects that have an uneven surface. To quote from the major promotor of this technology, the organization called Cultural Heritage Imaging, it is “a computational photographic method that captures a subject’s surface shape and color and enables the interactive re-lighting of the subject from any direction.” This results in a “virtual 3-D topography of the object surface, which can allow the simulation of raking light from any direction, or the modeling of a more evenly lit composite image” For further details, see http://culturalheritageimaging.org/Technologies/RTI/.

The editors of the Magica Levantina print edition made their decipherments mainly on the basis of the same RTI files that the ML Website is now making available to the public. This provides scholars with the opportunity to study the new and often very difficult material under the same conditions that were available to the editors when they deciphered it. In the field of Greek and Latin epigraphy, RTI documentation is very much a novelty It should make it easier than it has ever been in the past for scholars to critically evaluate the accuracy of the transcriptions of the often palaeographically very difficult inscriptions.

The types of RTI files shown are of two types. The one is called PTM, the other RTI (in spite of the fact that the name of the file is identical with the name of the entire technology). The PTM files are the ones usually shown. They allow for a greater amount of viewing modes in the downloadable RTIViewer. The occasionally used RTI files have fewer viewing modes but allow the user to see more deeply and accurately into relatively deep recesses in the surface.

The ML Website presents, in addition to the RTI files, a selection of JPG images that document the inscribed objects in a range of other ways. One finds, for example:

- JPGs showing parts of the inscriptions that could not be replicated in the transcriptions, namely magical signs and magical drawings inscribed on the tablets.

– JPGs of entire surfaces. Not only can these be easily downloaded, they are especially important in the absence of a single RTI image of an entire surface in those cases when only complementing sets of two or more close-up RTIs were made.