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E00699: Coptic invocation to *unnamed martyrs (S00060) for help to punish a married couple, probably from the area south of Assiut (Upper Egypt), datable to the 4th-5th c.

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posted on 2015-09-09, 00:00 authored by Bryan
P.Mich. inv. 1523

This text illustrates the private attempt of a woman named Theodora to gain the assistance of holy martyrs in a very personal matter. Theodora seeks the martyrs’ help to see her opponents punished and destroyed.

Ϯⲥⲁⲡⲥⲡ ϯⲡⲁⲣⲁⲕⲁⲗⲉⲓ ϯⲧⲱⲃϩ ⲙⲙⲱⲧⲛ ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ̣
ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲁ̣ⲛⲁⲕ ⲑ̣ⲉⲱⲇⲟⲣⲁ ϯⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ ⲉⲧϫⲏⲩ ⲛϭⲁⲛⲥ
ϯϯ ⲙⲡⲓⲗⲓⲃⲉⲗⲗⲟⲥ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ϩⲁ ⲡϫⲟⲣ ⲙⲛ ⲧϥⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ
4 ⲉⲡⲱϩⲧ ⲙⲙⲟ ⲛⲧⲉⲧⲛⲙⲛⲧⲁⲅⲁⲑⲟⲥ ϫⲉⲕⲁⲁⲥ
ⲁⲧⲉⲧⲛⲁⲣ̣ⲡⲁϩⲉ̣ⲡ ⲙⲛ ⲡϫⲟⲣ ⲙⲛ ⲧϥⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ
ⲧⲉⲧⲛⲡ[ⲁ]ⲧ̣ⲁⲥⲥ̣[ⲉ] ⲙⲙⲟⲟ̣ⲩ̣ ⲧⲉⲧⲛϫⲟⲣⲟⲩ ⲁ̣ⲃⲁⲗ
ⲧⲉ ⲡⲥⲁϩ̣ⲟⲩ ⲧ[ⲉ] ⲡϥⲛⲧ ⲙⲛ ⲡϫⲟⲩⲣ̣ⲉ ⲁⲃⲁⲗ
8 ⲧⲉϩⲁⲩ ⲧⲉ ⲧⲟⲣ̣[ⲅ]ⲏ ⲙⲡⲛ̣ⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲧⲉϩⲟ ⲡϫⲟⲣ
ⲙⲛ ⲧϥⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ ⲙⲛ ⲡⲉⲧϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲛⲁϥ ⲧⲏⲣϥ
ⲧⲉ ⲟⲩⲛⲟϭ ⲛⲑⲗⲓⲯⲓⲥ ⲙ̣ⲛ ⲟⲩⲛⲁϭ ⲛ̣ⲁϣϭⲁⲡ
ϣ̣ⲱⲡⲉ ϩⲓϫⲛ ⲡϥⲏ ⲙⲛ ⲧϥⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ
12 ⲛ̣ⲑ̣ⲉ ⲉ[ⲩ]ϣⲉ ⲛ̣ⲉ̣ⲧ̣ⲛϭⲓϫ ⲁϫⲱ[ⲟⲩ ⲧ]ⲉ̣ⲧ̣ϭⲓϫ ⲉⲧϫⲟⲟⲣ
ⲙ̣ⲛ ⲡ̣ϭ̣ⲃ̣ⲁ̣ⲓ̣ ⲉⲧ̣ϫⲁⲥⲉ ⲉⲓ ⲉϫⲱⲟⲩ ϩⲓⲟⲩⲥⲟⲡ
ⲛⲧⲟϥ̣ ⲙⲛ ⲧϥⲥ̣ϩⲓⲙⲉ ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩ̣ⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ
ⲁⲧⲉⲧⲛⲁ̣ϭⲉⲡⲏ ⲧⲉⲧⲛⲣⲡⲁϩⲉⲡ ⲛⲉⲙⲉⲩ
16 [ⲁⲩⲁⲛ]ⲁ̣ⲩ ⲉ̣ⲛⲉⲧⲛϭⲟⲙ ⲙⲛ <ⲛ>ⲉⲧⲛϣⲡⲏⲣⲉ
[ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩ]ⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲧ̣[ⲟ]ⲩ̣ⲁⲁⲃ ⲁ̣ⲧⲉⲧⲛⲁ̣ⲣⲡⲁϩⲉⲡ
[ⲛⲉⲙⲉⲩ] ⲧⲉ ⲡ[ⲉ]ⲩ̣ⲛⲕⲟ ⲗⲟϫⲉ

'I entreat, I beg, and I beseech you, holy martyrs! (2) I, Theodora, this ill-treated woman, (3) I hand in this petition (libellos) concerning Pjor and his wife. (4) I bow before your righteousness, so that (5) you will conduct my case against Pjor and his wife, (6) and so that you will strike them and destroy them, (7) and so that the curse, the worm, and the destruction will befall them, (8) and the wrath of God will come upon Pjor, (9) his wife, and everything that is his, (10) and so that a great suffering and a great outcry (11) will be on his house and his wife, (12) just as a smack from your hands upon them, and so that the strong hand (13) and the raised arm shall come upon them all at once, (14) him and his wife!
Holy martyrs, (15) you shall hasten and conduct my case against them. (16) [They shall] see your powers and miracles!
(17) Holy martyrs, you shall conduct my case (18) [against them] and [their] property shall be removed!

Text and translation: Worrell 1935, modified with new readings by Gesa Schenke.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ̣ ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ̣

Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Other private document Liturgical texts - Invocations, prayers and spells Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus sheet


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Assiut Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Praying before an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people Women

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic


Papyrus P.Michigan Inv. 1523 is of unknown provenance, though dialectal forms speak for the area south of Assiut/Lykopolis(Upper Egypt) as the place of origin for the spell, which has been dated to the 4th or 5th century on palaeographical grounds. The papyrus leaf measures ca. 31.5 x 20.5 cm. The text was first published in 1935 by William H. Worrell among 'Coptic Magical and Medical Texts', and was later reproduced in translation by Stephen H. Skiles in Meyer’s and Smith’s volume of Coptic magical texts as item no. 108 'Curse against Joor and his wife'. Ever since, this witness has been hidden in the large heap of magical papyri.


A woman named Theodora seeks the help of unnamed martyrs against a married couple whom she wishes to be punished. The reason for her anger and demand for justice are not directly stated, but judging from the last line, the underlying dispute seems to be a financial one. All she claims is that she is the 'injured party'. In order to achieve her goal, Theodora claims to 'hand in this petition (libellos) concerning Pjor and his wife'. The libellos mentioned here, most likely refers to the very papyrus in front of us and not to an official legal petition handed in to activate proceedings in a civic law court, though the invocation clearly makes use of such legal terminology. This suggests an invocation for a punishing miracle of the kind commonly performed by martyr saints in their miracle stories. The editor of the text pointed out that the martyrs addressed here might be the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, who occasionally occur in Coptic magical texts, but this is no more than a possibility. Theodora may just invoke martyrs in general in the hope that one of them will answer her call, or she may be addressing a well-known martyr group. Whether Theodora was addressing an image of the martyrs, or was wearing or holding relics of martyr saints while invoking them is also a matter of pure speculation, but in view of reports from Gregory of Tours (e.g. E00627) in which relics of unknown martyrs were used successfully to ward off evil, this possibility might be worth keeping in mind. The papyrus could well have been deposited in a martyr shrine as a written request.


Editions and translations: Kropp, A., Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte, vol. I–III, Brussels 1930/31, esp. vol. II, 220 and vol. III, 103. Worrell, W.H., “Coptic Magical and Medical Texts”, Orientalia 4 (1935), 1–37 and 184–194, esp. 3–4. Skiles, S.H., "108: Curse against Joor and his wife’, in: M. Meyer and R. Smith (eds.), Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994), 217–218.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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