Charaktêres is the ancient term used for specific signs that were applied in contexts of interaction and communication with higher powers, or, less academically, in contexts of magic and ritual practice. Today, these signs are commonly referred to as „magic signs“ or „Zauberzeichen“.

About magic signs

The earliest attestations for the use of magic signs date back to the late first century CE. Only about a hundred years later they are spread over the Roman Empire. The signs occur on amulets, curse tablets, gold and silver tablets, gem stones, instruments and many other artefacts. A much wider range of their use is transmitted in ancient ritual manuals, mainly the Greek, Coptic and Demotic manuals. The making and use of over 300 inscribed artefacts is preserved in these manuals, 50 of which depict magic signs. A third source is provided by the literary record.

The number of individual sign types reaches into the thousands, they are attested on more than 1.000 ancient artefacts. Yet until recently no substantial research had been conducted to compile and analyse these tremendous sources systematically.

About my work on Charaktêres

In 2008 I started The Charaktêres Project and presented my first approaches on the international conference Contesti magici-Contextos magicos in Rome in 2009.1 In 2010 I set up a blog to make the research progress available to everyone interested in the topic. In november 2016 I received a three year grant from the German Research Foundation for my project „Handbook and Analysis of Ancient Magic Signs“. The project ran from 2017 to 2019 and was located at the Universities of Erfurt and Heidelberg in Germany.

This knowledge hub builds upon my previous research and is regularly updated with new descriptions of ancient magical artefacts, new sources and news about my ongoing research.

And if you want to know more about ancient magic, take a look at my publications and online courses, sign up for my newsletter or join a live webinar.

  1. Kirsten Dzwiza, The „Catalogue and Statistical Analysis of the Charaktêres” project: a first introduction, in: F. M. Simón, M. Piranomonte, Contesti magici-Contextos magicos. Atti del Convegno internazionale, Roma 2012, 307-308.