In the nineteenth century, Christian communities used amulets in their daily lives: to combat ailments and illnesses, to bless crops, for protection in travel and assistance in political feuds. Written in classical Syriac, and calling upon a rich repertoire of saints who were often depicted as ‘rider-saints’ lancing named demons, the amulets provide rich insight into the vernacular religious landscape of northern Mesopotamia. Extant examples of these ‘handbooks of amulets’ are relatively late as they date from late 18th-early 19th centuries, but they are the heirs of an age-old tradition that harks back to the incantation bowls of Late Antiquity. As well as traversing time, the amulet tradition traversed territory. Syriac amulets, dating from the medieval period, that have been found at a monastery site in Turfan (Sinkiang, Uighur Autonomous Region of China) provide a direct link with the Christian heritage of Mesopotamia, and testify the outreach of the Church of the East to Central Asia and China.
Until her retirement in 2020, Dr. Erica C.D. Hunter was Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christianity, Dept. of History, Religions and Philosophies, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Her research interests focus on Syriac Christianity in Iraq and Syria, as well as the outreach of the Church of the East in Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and China until 1500. She was Principal Investigator for two AHRC-funded projects: ‘The Christian Library from Turfan’ (2008-2011) and ‘The transmission of Christian texts from Turfan’ (2012-2015). She spent many years studying the collection of incantation bowls in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad and published, in association with J.B. Segal, Catalogue of Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls in the British Museum (London: British Museum Publications, 2000). She currently serves on the Council of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.