The Label of Magic in the Fourth-century Disputes and Conflicts


Artis heu magicis – The Label of Magic in the Fourth-century Disputes and Conflicts’, Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome, eds. Michele R. Salzman, Marianne Sághy & Rita Lizzi Testa, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 162-177.


Artis heu magicis procerum dum quaeris honores, / sic, miserande, iaces parvo donate sepulcro  – ‘Alas, while seeking the honours of nobility by your magic arts / you are brought thus low, wretch, rewarded with a tiny tomb’ – this is how an unnamed ‘pagan’ Roman senator is accused of practising magic in the anonymous pamphlet poem often called Carmen contra paganos (Cod. Par. Lat. 8084, v. 110-111). And the same poem, a bit further (near the end of the poem) refers to the ‘magic incantations’ (carminibus magicis) of the widow of the wretched senator.

This is just one example of many labels of magic that were attached either religious rivals or political opponents in the fourth century. In this paper I aim to analyse and contextualize the category of magic tagged to ‘pagan’ cults and ‘heresies’ in the fourth-century. Now, magic has turned out to be a very useful and resourceful and versatile word, indeed – in inter-religious and intra-religious combats. The easiest way to produce a difference, create a boundary, was to label the practices and beliefs of the rival group as ‘magic’.