An ancient amulet with a Greek palindrome inscription on one side and images of Egyptian and Greek gods on the other has been discovered at the ancient city of Nea Paphos in Cyprus.
The 1,500-year-old amulet measures 1.4in by 1.6in and contains a 59-letter inscription in Greek that reads the same backwards as it does forwards. It translates to "Iahweh (a god) is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine".
The maker of the amulet made two small mistakes while composing the palindrome, incorrectly writing a "p" in two instances when the letter should have been a "v".
The other side of the amulet contains several images designed to protect the wearer, including a bandaged mummy lying on a boat that is thought to be Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, as well as Hapocrates, the Greek god of silence, who is depicted sitting on a stool while holding his right hand up to his lips.
The amulet also shows a cynocephalus – a mythical dog-headed creature, which is mimicking Hapocrates by also holding his right paw up to his lips.
Pagan beliefs in Christian times
"[It] rather seems that Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use," Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, a classical archaeology professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland told IBTimes UK.
Papuci-Wladyka directed the team of archaeologists that found the amulet while excavating an ancient agora (a Greek assembly place) in Nea Paphos, an ancient port city in Cyprus which bears the remains of fortresses, palaces, villas and tombs from the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Jagiellonian University's Paphos Agora Project has been excavating the Unesco World Heritage Site since 2011.
At the time that the amulet was made, Cyprus was a part of the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire), where the official religion was Christianity.
Nevertheless, the amulet shows a combination of several different faiths, some of them pagan, and the archaeologists believe that many people, including the owner of this amulet, probably continued to practice old beliefs and superstitions relating to paganism in secret.
Lack of understanding of mythical characters
The archaeologists' conclusions about the amulet have been published in the latest issue of the journal Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization.
Joachim Śliwa, a professor at the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University, writes in the journal article that it is likely that the amulet's creator didn't really understand the religious and mythological characters he or she portrayed.
"It must be stated that the depiction is fairly unskilled and schematic. It is iconographically based on Egyptian sources, but these sources were not fully understood by the creator of the amulet," Śliwa wrote.
"In the classic version, the cynocephalus faces Harpocrates with paws raised in adoration. We can find no justification for the cynocephalus's gesture of raising its right paw to its lips in a manner similar to Harpocrates."
Another strange aspect of the amulet's images is that the creator has drawn criss-crossing lines on the bodies of the characters, which seems to indicate that the dog-headed creature and Hapocrates should also be mummified along with Osiris, but mummy bandages have "no justification in the case of Harpocrates," Śliwa concluded.