PSI I 64 (BL I 390, IV 87, IX 311)
Oxyrhynchus, 1st century BCE

Thais, daughter of Tarouinthos, swears to ....son of Hermogenes, by Osiris, and Isis, and Horos (?), and Zeus, and all the other gods and goddesses to remain with you for as long as you live, dwelling with you as your legitimate wife, neither sleeping away from your bed, nor being absent from your house even for a day, and to be affectionate to you and to ...neglecting nothing of yours. (mutilated lines containing the financial arrangements) If I, being wronged in no way, ... (decide?) to separate from you and leave you ...I shall pay back everything, taking nothing for myself. But with regard to the five talents of bronze through the loan, I shall annul the loan and shall surrender it with no excuse whatsoever. If you give me other items of gold jewelry in addition to the aforementioned ...I shall not take these away with me, but shall give them back to you, taking nothing for myself. I will not be together with any other man, in the way of women, except with you, nor shall I prepare love charms against you, whether in your beverages or in your food, nor shall I connive with any man who will do you (harm) on any pretence. (Year) 2, Choiak.

(2nd hand) I, Thais, have sworn the oath written above and I shall do as prescribed.

Rowlandson, Jane, ed. 1998. Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt. Cambridge.

1- What is the relationship between magic (charms, etc.) and divinity?
2- What is the significance of the 5 talents and economic inferiority in regards to the status of women?
3- What type of marriage contract was this? Typical or rare?
4- Did men have to make similar oaths?
5- Were women seen as having a deeper or more relevant connection to "charms" and magic?


Magic in the Roman Era was connected to divinity in that it often appeared in stories and the like that related to the gods and goddesses. However, the relation to the divinities was sometimes splintered; magic was shown in stories to be related to even demigods or heroes, the half-mortal children of gods. Likewise, magic was also link to women specifically. Women were seen as having a special connection to magic. Both of these trends are easily noted in Virgil’s Aeneid, a Roman epic. Aeneas is the hero of the epic and after leaving Troy, he comes upon the Northern Coast of Africa in the city of Catharge. This city is being built by the Queen Dido, who falls in love with Aeneas and bids him to stay, which he does for a while because she is very powerful. However, he then has to leave as per Fate, resulting in a curse that is strengthened by Dido’s suicide with which Catharge defeats Rome many years later. In this episode alone, the readers can see that the amount of power prescribed to Dido is magical in nature, and she is really only able to exercise her power through magic.

However, her magic is only truly utilized in its most powerful form as love magic, something that this marriage contract specifically forbids a wife from carrying out in the form of love charms. Therefore, this suggests that the attitude for women’s power was seen as related to only love or sexual relations. This implies further that women’s only place in society was seen in terms of sex and sexuality; they were not true human beings in their own right, but rather their gender and the functions that their sex could perform in a male oriented, patriarchal society.

Men did not have to make similar marriage contracts, in accordance with the greater amount of freedom they were given, but also because they were not seen as susceptible to magic. Magic was seen as a negative and fearful thing, as recorded in the writings of the philosopher Seneca, who made sure that his writings taught of the consequences and evil of magic.

Works Cited:

Virgil, and J. W. Mackail. Vergil's Works. The Aenead, Eclogues, Georgics;. New York: Modern Library, 1950. Print.

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, and Brad Inwood. Seneca: selected philosophical letters. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

"The Roman Empire: in the First Century. The Roman Empire. Life In Roman Times. Weddings, Marriages & Divorce | PBS." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. PBS. 12 May 2011 <>

That's fascinating that men did not have to sign reciprocal contracts. I also find it fascinating that the wife has to give back EVERYTHING that her husband gave her, should she divorce him, and I think this speaks to a deep concern over property in Roman society that you could explore if you feel so inclined. There seems to be a dual function of this passage, both to keep the woman from performing magic and to protect the man's property, both protecting the man even though, as you pointed out, women lack many avenues of agency in Roman society. -Leander Love-Anderegg

Hi, interesting work explaining the role magic played in marital contracts. When I read your document I was surprised at the prominence of the clause concerning ramifications of a potential divorce. While the woman does have to return everything she has been given in the event of a divorce, the document implies that she may be the one to opt for said divorce. I find it very intriguing in a male dominated society such as Ancient Rome that a woman would be granted the power to end the marriage. So my question is, was divorce common in Republican Rome and before the advent of Christianity? Clearly Christian societies were much more concerned with the sanctity of marriage - did Christian emperors impose significant laws to change the constitution of marital contracts? Or did the Church do this anyway? I'd love to see you elaborate on that. Great job, keep it up. - Ben P.

I really like your document and analysis but I feel like it would improve if you linked certain statements you make to some type of source, whether it's an internet page or an extract from a book. This might make your comments seem a lot more grounded in facts. For example when you say: "women’s only place in society was seen in terms of sex and sexuality", you could have this statement linked to an example of when women were treated unfairly, statistics, a quote, etc… You could use a woman’s account because you already have evidence from men and it would give more balance to your sources. Hope this makes sense. Gaby Quintana

I really enjoyed your discussion of the how magic was connected to the female and how it could play a role in certain marital contracts. I especially liked your selections from the Aeneid which illustrate the female's "special connection to magic". It might be worth adding a little background on typical Roman marital contracts at the beginning of the analysis just an introduction. I also agree with Gaby in that it might be worth adding some subsidiary pages or even scholarly links in the document. - Mark Wieland

This is a fascinating text, and as some of your classmates point out, there is more going on here than magic. You could have briefly addressed topics such as the position of women within marriages in general, and the structure of inheritance-law as it played out in marriage. Having said that, magic is an interesting topic. You might want to look through some of Propertius' elegies or Ovid's Amores: there is a sub-genre of poems about bawds who mix love-potions within the elegiac tradition. As for your remarks on the Aeneid, you might want to cite individual passages where Vergil plays up the sorceress within the character of Dido (often by implicit reference to another sorceress, Medea). A final small point: is it correct to say that the Carthaginians employ Dido's curse to 'defeat' the Romans many years later, rather than Dido's curse simply being proleptically linked to a long and destructive sequence of wars? - James Kierstead