Invocation to the hunting-goddess Diana, demanding the death penalty for the thief of a hat and scarf.
Found in the Amphitheatre. Letters photographically enhanced. Image © Andy Chopping, MOLA
Here we have someone whose clothes have been stolen, and who is asking a goddess to help track down the thief and punish them. We shall never know why these particular items should stir such anger that the victim would demand the death penalty. Gifts from a lover, perhaps, or treasured family heirlooms? Be that as it may, the curse was almost certainly the last desperate throw by the victim of a system that made it very difficult for an ordinary person to track down a thief and bring them to court.
Under Roman law, it was up to the victim to bring a private prosecution.
And even if successful, there was no guarantee they would recover the
stolen goods. The court would require the thief to pay a fine equivalent
to the value of the property, but would not be responsible for
reclaiming the property itself. Everything favoured the rich and
influential, who could send out servants to hunt down thieves and beat
them up if they didn’t comply with court orders.
Our London victim presumably had no influential earthly patron, and so
the best they could do was to beg for Diana’s help. The curious pledge
of two-thirds of the stolen goods is itself probably rooted in Roman
law. A court would sometimes issue a warrant permitting a search of a
suspect’s house. If stolen goods were found, the fine would be tripled. A
goddess would have the power to search the house of any mortal, so not
surprisingly, our victim was only too happy for her to take the premium
that will result from a successful investigation.