“Take two of these for what ails you” – Material approaches to Medicine and Magic

Organisers: Adam Parker (Open University) and Thomas J. Derrick (University of Leicester)

The dual concepts of ‘Magic’ and ‘Medicine’, no matter how they are defined semantically or conceptually, can be argued to have fulfilled a very similar function in the Roman world: both aim to improve an individual’s situation through the application of specialist, learned, or arcane knowledge and often required the use of specialist equipment pertinent to specific situations. The boundaries between the two may overlap in great detail, but where this boundary might lay is argued over in Classical as well as Modern literature to no firm conclusion. It is not the purpose of this session to try and delineate the fundamental distinctions between medicine and magic in the Roman world but to explore some aspects and approaches to the surviving material evidence. We aim to develop a dialogue between these two concepts and through a multidisciplinary approach hope to promote an interconnectedness between the ideas.

Theoretical archaeological approaches are inherent in the PhD topics of both of the session organisers (one from a background in ‘medicine’, one from ‘magic’); although, on paper, the two concepts may sit on different sides of a divide researchers are forced to travel to the opposite side not only to admire the theoretical view, but to consider the differing interpretations of similar material culture from similar archaeological contexts appearing to involve similar functional intentions, but which has been catalogued or conceptualised differently. Furthermore, both sides can be considered archaeologies of belief, with an aim to investigate potential relationships between practitioners and petitioners/patients. The purpose of this session is to invite others to share in this dual-view and to invite additional approaches to the debate from all over the Roman world. We are particularly interested in investigating the duality of magic and medicine in terms of the plethora of material evidence that this may relate to, especially in relation to ideas of materiality, the senses, and/or spaces. The session aims to include multidisciplinary perspectives from students, academics and museum professionals in order for a range of theoretical approaches to this topic to be brought together and facilitate an important dialogue.

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