NORFOLK Museums Service
Billingford Lamella

Billingford Lamella

Many people in the Roman world used lucky charms or ‘amulets’ to ward off evil or bring good luck. A rare type of amulet is a ‘lamella’ like this, from Billingford in Norfolk, which has a specially-written inscription on it. Originally it would have been rolled up and placed in a small tubular pendant hung from the neck. Gold lamellae like our example from Billingford are exceptionally rare, with fewer than 70 known in the entire Roman empire.

The Billingford lamella was unrolled by the finder and can now be read. It was written between about 60-150AD and uses both Greek and Latin, as well as various magical symbols. The inscription seems to read:

Iao, Abrasax […], ablanathanalba, give health and victory (to) Tiberius Claudius Similis whom Herennia Marcellina bore

However, this provides only half the story as the first two lines are filled with Greek magical signs, others appearing in lines 3 and 4. Iao and Abrasax, written in Greek letters, are the names of gods, while ablanathanalba was a well-known magical word (like ‘abracadabra’).

The name of the wearer, Similis, is quite common in the Lower Rhine valley, suggesting that the wearer may have been a German immigrant to Norfolk.