Ancient Greek Amulet With Strange Palindrome Inscription Discovered in Cyprus

By April Holloway, www.ancient-origins.net
January 18, 2015 Updated: January 19, 2015

Archaeologists in Cyprus have unearthed a 1,500-year-old amulet in the ancient city of Nea Paphos in Cyprus, which contains a curious palindrome inscription—a text that reads the same both backwards and forwards—as well as several images believed to represent the Egyptian god Osiris, god of silence, Harpocrates, and a dog-headed mythical being.

Live Science reports that the discovery was made by archaeologists with the Paphos Agora Project, who have been excavating an ancient agora (gathering place) at Nea Paphos, the most famous and important place for worshiping Aphrodite in the ancient world.

UNESCO writes: “Paphos, which has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, was a center of the cult of Aphrodite and of pre-Hellenic fertility deities. Aphrodite’s legendary birthplace was on the island of Cyprus, where her temple was erected by the Myceneans in the 12th century B.C. and continued to be used until the Roman period. The site is a vast archaeological area, with remains of villas, palaces, theaters, fortresses, and tombs. These illustrate Paphos’ exceptional architectural and historic value and contribute extensively to our understanding of ancient architecture, ways of life, and thinking.” 

Paphos (Shutterstock*)
Paphos (Shutterstock*)

Palindrome Inscription

The amulet, found at Nea Paphos, which measures 1.4 by 1.6 inches (3.5 x 4.1 centimeters), contains a 59-letter palindrome inscription on one side, and several images on the other side.

The inscription, written in Greek, reads “ΙΑΕW ΒΑΦΡΕΝΕΜ ΟΥΝΟΘΙΛΑΡΙ ΚΝΙΦΙΑΕΥΕ ΑΙΦΙΝΚΙΡΑΛ ΙΘΟΝΥΟΜΕ ΝΕΡΦΑΒW ΕΑΙ (Iahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine).”

The inscription, written in Greek, reads “ΙΑΕW ΒΑΦΡΕΝΕΜ ΟΥΝΟΘΙΛΑΡΙ ΚΝΙΦΙΑΕΥΕ ΑΙΦΙΝΚΙΡΑΛ ΙΘΟΝΥΟΜΕ ΝΕΡΦΑΒW ΕΑΙ (Iahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine).”

The use of palindromes is believed to date back at least 2,000 years, and became popular during the Middle Ages. Byzantine Greeks often inscribed the palindrome, “Wash [the] sins, not only [the] face” (ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ), on baptismal fonts. This practice was continued in many other churches throughout Europe, such as the font at St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham, or the font in the basilica of St. Sophia, Constantinople, the font of St. Stephen d’Egres, Paris.

Engravings of Gods

On the other side of the amulet are several images, including a mummy lying on a boat, which is believed to represent the Egyptian god Osiris. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris, god of the underworld, was killed by Set, god of storms, disorder and violence, who shut Osiris in a coffin and threw it in the Nile river. After his body was recovered by Isis, Set tore his body into pieces and threw them back into the river. Isis collected all the pieces and bandaged the body together. This form of Osiris traveled to the underworld in a boat and became god of the dead.

Symbology relating to this story has been seen on amulets before, including this talisman (click here to open the image), which depicts Osiris as a mummy, standing to front in a papyrus boat.

Another image etched on the back of the amulet is of the god of silence, Harpocrates, who is shown sitting on a stool with his right hand to his lips. Harpocrates was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the newborn Sun, rising each day at dawn. 

A statue of Harpocrates, god of silence, 1789, by Louis Philipe Mouchy. (Wikimedia Commons)
A statue of Harpocrates, god of silence, 1789, by Louis Philipe Mouchy. (Wikimedia Commons)

The final image found on the amulet was a cynocephalus, a mythical dog-headed creature, which is shown holding a paw up to its lips, as if mimicking Harpocrates’ gesture.  Cynocephaly was familiar to the Ancient Greeks from representations of the Egyptian gods Hapi (the son of Horus) and Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead).

A cynocephalus. From the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. (Wikimedia Commons)
A cynocephalus. From the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jagiellonian University professor Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, who led the research, told Live Science that the features of the amulet suggest that the ancient people of Cyprus, were continuing to practice their traditional, polytheistic beliefs even after Christianity had become the official religion, and that such amulets were used for protection from harm and danger.

Christianity became the official religion in Cyprus in the 5th century A.D. “[As] time went on, traditional polytheistic (also called pagan) practices came under tighter restrictions and bans,” writes Live Science. “Nevertheless, some people continued to practice the old beliefs, worshiping the traditional gods.” 

Republished with permission. Read the original at Ancient Origins.

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