University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Magic in the Ancient World was open from April 16, 2016 – September 3, 2017.

Protective amulets, incantation bowls, curse tablets, powerful rings, magical stones, and anatomical votives—these objects and more, once used by ancient peoples seeking to fulfill desires through supernatural means, are featured in Magic in the Ancient World.

Deeply entwined with science and religion, magic was a real and everyday part of life for many ancient peoples around the world. Ancient magic addressed many of the dreams, hopes, and passions humans grapple with today: desire for health and wellbeing, protection from evil—even revenge. Magic in the Ancient World takes a survey approach, featuring 81 artifacts from the Penn Museum’s collections. The exhibition explores some of the magical objects, words, and rituals used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.

Are people who used magic in the ancient world so different from people today? The exhibition invites guests to reflect at two interactive stations: one that provides ancient magical solutions (via objects found in the gallery) to modern problems, and a second that asks guests to consider their own magical thinking via a survey, “do you believe in magic?”

Images: Mesopotamian ceramic incantation bowl (circa 300-700 CE); terracotta Rider with a Gorgon Shield from Cyprus, (350-300 BCE)

In Magic in the Ancient World you will discover:

Egyptian Canopic jar

How the ancient Egyptians became whole again in the afterlife.

Serpent Pendant

The serpent’s secret to success in 100-450 CE.


Ancient magical solutions to your modern problems and other interactives.

Rx Symbol

The history behind the “Rx” symbol on your prescription.

Curse Tablet

Tools the Romans used to cast a curse.

Do You Believe in Magic?

The chance to explore your own beliefs and superstitions.

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