The most famous poisonings in history – what caused them?

 Mushrooms poisoning of Emperor Claudius

Poisoning was particularly popular in Rome. There was even a profession and a “trade union” of food tasters. And the Romans clinked glasses only to show that the wine spilled from one cup to another was not poisoned.

The Emperor Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanic, or Claudius, married five times. The last wife of the 57-year-old Emperor, in 48 year, was Agrippina, his 32-year-old niece. She dreamed of getting rid of Claudius’ Germanic and persuading her husband to adopt Nero, her son from her first marriage.

On October 13 in year 54, after another full dinner, Claudius fell asleep. 12 hours later, he was dead.

Emperor Claudius

The first rumors of poisoning by his wife appeared shortly after Claudius’ death. Nero himself has hinted at the poisoning. After the Senate deified Claudius, Nero who had already become emperor, said that “mushrooms are undoubtedly the food of the gods. After all, by eating mushrooms, Claudius became divine.” In imperial Rome, mushrooms were very popular. Simple Romans ate common mushrooms, and nobles ate the special “cesarean”, bright orange ones.

Agrippina had the motive and opportunity to poison her husband. She could easily add poisonous mushrooms to her drunk husband’s dish. The mushroom which is the source of deadly muscarin is a famous fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).

fly agaric muscarin

All the symptoms: blood poured eyes, difficulty breathing, indomitable vomiting, excessive salivation, terrible stomach pain, and low blood pressure indicate poisoning with muscarin alkaloid, which affects the central nervous system. The body loses a lot of fluid, the pressure drops dramatically, and the person dies. Nowadays atropine successfully treats muscarin poisonings, but two thousand years ago nobody knew about this antidote.

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