Jan 03, 2015 I Paul Seaburn

Palindrome Discovered on Ancient Greek Amulet

Archeologists digging in southwestern Cyprus discovered a 1,500-year-old amulet inscribed with a 59-letter palindrome. In case you’ve forgotten, a palindrome is a word or phrase which reads the same backwards and forwards, like “Madam, I’m Adam."  Some believe palindromes have magical powers. Does this one?

The amulet was discovered during excavations at an ancient agora at Nea Paphos by the Paphos Agora Project. The inscription reads:


This translates to:

Iahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.

According to Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, a professor at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and the excavation leader, this phrase is indicative of the combining of pagan and early Christian cultures occurring in the 4th and 5th centuries. The amulet has drawings on the back of Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence, and a cynocephalus, a dog-headed creature of both Greek and Egyptian mythology.

cynocephalus 570x420
A cynocephalus

Why are palindromes considered magical? The earliest known palindrome is the Sator Square, a word square found in the ruins of Pompeii dating back to 79 AD which contains the Latin words “SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS.” The words can be stacked in a square and read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right and right-to-left. Historians believe early Christians developed palindromes as a way to send secret signals to each other to avoid persecution. Because of their backwards-and-forwards matches, palindromes were also considered to be spells. One thought is that the reversible letters would confuse the devil.

While this palindrome amulet may not have magical powers, it does have some errors according to Joachim Śliwa, an archeology professor at Jagiellonian University. There are two places where the author wrote a "ρ" instead of "v" and Harpocrates is wearing mummy bandages, which is not correct.

If the author had known his work would be criticized in 2015, he might have added the following palindrome:

Dammit, I’m mad!

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!