10 Notable Poisonings From The Ancient World

10 Notable Poisonings From The Ancient World








Throughout the course of history, poison has proven an extremely valuable item for the assassin’s toolkit. What it lacks in reliability it makes up for in silence, and sometimes warfare and murder need to be as absolutely discreet as possible.

In ancient Rome, for instance, the political climate and strife between wealthy, aristocratic Roman elites dissuaded more brutal and overt forms of violence, and poisoning became a favorite for those who wanted to kill unquestioned without a trace. There were even mass poisonings and master poisoners, assassins who’d work to carry out the quick, quiet, clean, and murderous directives of the highest bidder.[1]Needless to say, an assassin who could effectively kill discreetly was in high demand in an age where challenging political factions and alliances was dangerous and could get you killed if found out.

Throughout many ancient historical empires, leaders and citizenry alike have been disposed of through the use of poison. Here are ten notable poisonings from ancient history which had important consequences, often ushering in a change of power.

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No list discussing poisoning would be complete without a mention of one of the most famous poisonings of all time, the trial and execution of Socrates. While Socrates administered the poison himself, uttering that he longed for death after a long life of reflection, it’s no secret that the father of Western philosophy was coerced into doing so in an Athenian prison, put into a situation where he had to accept an unjust guilt, pay a fine, and leave town—something he could not, in good conscience, bring himself to do—or die at his own hand in the custody of the Athenian authorities. The Athenians needed a face to blame, a scapegoat for political and social unrest, and Socrates was just about the least popular character in town at the time.[2]

Socrates was the laughingstock of the city but also a philosophical genius, a fool capable of making a fool of everyone who thought he was a fool, demonstrably and in public, by outsmarting them. This made the old man a target for political attacks, and he would be persecuted and essentially forced to drink poison by his fellow Athenians. Plato tells of Socrates’s trial, and through Plato, the philosophy of Socrates lived on and ended up being a catalyst that changed the entire history of the Western world indefinitely.

9Drusus Julius Caesar

Photo credit: Robur.q

This almost-would-be emperor was the only son of Emperor Tiberius of ancient Rome and was the expected successor to the throne in the 20s AD. He was a moderately experienced statesman with a life of imperial richness ahead of him.[3] He was related to two emperors of excess, Nero and Caligula, and because of this, and possibly his moderate temperament mixed with his violent reputation, he ended up getting the raw end of a political double cross.

Sejanus, an ambitious confidant of Tiberius and rival of Drusus, didn’t want Drusus succeeding Tiberius to the throne, and Tiberius wasn’t exactly a young man. Sejanus seduced Drusus’s wife, Livilla, even telling her that he’d divorce his own wife for her. Livilla poisoned Drusus. Ultimately, however, when Tiberius died, the throne would pass to the infamous Caligula.

8Demosthenes Of Athens

Photo credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Demosthenes was an Athenian public speaker and politician who would be notable for is opposition to the consolidation of Greek power which took place under Philip II of Macedon—and later, Alexander the Great. Demosthenes was very vocal about his disagreement with the idea that Macedon should annex Athens, and Greek land in general. He was an avid supporter of Athenian democracy and culture and was a notable figure in the city-state, furthering much of what ended up spilling into future Western culture. Giving an infamous speech to try to gather Athenian support against Macedonia, he would fail at his task, regardless of his skills in rhetoric and public discourse, though he would continue long, dedicated campaigns in support of Athenian independence.

After the sudden and surprising death of the Macedonian king Philip, Alexander would take hold of the newly forming empire, and he would go on to become the conqueror and leader we know as Alexander the Great. After he led a failed uprising against Alexander, Demosthenes went into exile. Even though Alexander would suddenly die, Demosthenes’s friend Demades denounced him as a traitor and turncoat, and the Athenians sentenced him to die. Demosthenes ultimately chose to kill himself with poison.[4]


Photo credit: Jean-Baptiste Regnault

Cleopatra (aka Cleopatra VII Philopator), one of the most famous women in history, would end up dying from poison at the end of her life and reign. She became a ruler of Egypt through her Macedonian ancestors’ takeover of the ancient nation and became a figure of literary history after her death, especially as a result of William Shakespeare’s work about her.

Cleopatra would notably sweep Julius Caesar off his feet after he chased political rival Pompey into Egypt to solidify his power. Cleopatra famously rolled herself into a rug and smuggled herself right into Caesar’s presence, the opportunist that she was, seeing an opportunity to seduce the military general as he took nearly the sole reigns of the budding Roman Empire. However, Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar was largely a political move. She did, however, end up in a romantic relationship with Mark Antony, one of Caesar’s political allies.

But Antony truly loved Cleopatra, allowing her great powers within Egypt and some Greek islands in the Mediterranean, which didn’t sit well with the political elite of the day. He was ultimately forced to run away to Egypt after falling out of political favor in Rome. In truly Shakespearean fashion, Cleopatra is alleged to have spread word of her own suicide. Antony was completely unaware of this ploy, and thinking her actually dead, chose to commit suicide rather than live without her. Cleopatra would take her own life with poison as well, rather than face capture by Octavian. The classic story goes that she used the venom of an asp, but she probably actually used hemlock.[5]

6Artaxerxes III

Photo credit: Mardetanha

Outside of the Greco-Roman world, political double crosses in the face of great opportunity were still largely the norm. The Persian Empire had its fair share of political strife, and that means it had its fair share of political assassinations. That, of course, means poison was a valuable tool for anyone who wanted to murder their way to the top.

Artaxerxes was the ruler of ancient Persia, coming from a long line of emperors, and while generally popular, he ruled with an iron fist, snuffing out any competition in his way, even family. In a time of political turmoil, revolt, and challenges to the throne, Artaxerxes III put his enemies and opponents to death in a fashion that would make modern mob bosses blush—like many rulers at the time, he simply did what had to be done.

In a historical double cross, Bagoas, Artaxerxes’s minister and political ally, would poison Artaxerxes and all of his sons except one, consolidating his power.[6] He would later attempt to poison Darius III of Persia unsuccessfully.

5Artaxerxes IV

Photo credit: the saleroom

But the story of Artaxerxes and Bagoas doesn’t end there. Remember that one, single, lone surviving son of Artaxerxes III? Bagoas would catapult him to the throne in an attempt to manipulate him and maintain his consolidated control over the Persian Empire.[7]

However, turmoil persisted throughout the empire. (Being invaded by Philip II of Macedon didn’t help.) After reigning for only two years, Artaxerxes IV (aka Arses) plotted to poison Bagoas. Instead, Bagoas successfully poisoned and killed Artaxerxes. With everyone scrambling for power and all heirs to the throne dead, Bagoas would establish Arses’s cousin, Darius III, as the new emperor of Persia.


How sweet the taste of revenge is. Cashing in on built-up karma, the next famous poisoning on our list is none other than Bagoas himself. Bagoas was a consultant and political statesman who operated largely behind the scenes, conducting his imperialism behind the facade of emperor-making and controlling them like puppets, as we’ve seen. He disposed of both Artaxerxes III and IV when they proved not to be loyal enough or exactly what he wanted out of a puppet emperor. Then, he installed Darius III.

Remember how Bagoas later attempted to poison Darius III? Well, finally, his sleazy ways would catch up with him. Darius had been warned of Bagoas’s intentions. After his attempt to poison Darius failed, Darius forced Bagoas to drink the poison intended for the emperor. Bagoas died, quite literally, from a taste of his own medicine.[8]


Antipater was the father of King Herod the Great and started a dynasty in Palestine, of which Herod was his successor as ruler. Antipater was caught in a whirlwind of local Palestinian politics, both Jewish and non. Having been installed to power by Caesar and Pompey meant he was caught up in Roman politics as well.[9]

During his rise to local political leader as governor, he snubbed the then-Palestinian king, Aristobulis, and distanced himself from another king, Hyrcanus II, by installing his two sons, including Herod, into positions of power in local office. A political rival named Malich (or Malichus) would end up poisoning Antipater a few years later, something which benefited Hyrcanus as well. Nevertheless, Herod was placed in power by the Romans and would go on to become the king written about in the Holy Bible.


Photo credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Emperor Claudius was the son of Nero Claudius Drusus Tiberius, who was the younger brother of the Emperor Tiberius (the same Tiberius who fathered Drusus Julius Caesar, mentioned earlier). He is notable for greatly expanding the size of Rome and making Britain a province. Through many military campaigns, Claudius brought Rome to one of the largest sizes it would ever be and reigned from AD 41 to 54. Having a long tenure for a Roman emperor of that era, Cladius’s reign was largely successful.

Claudius was married to a woman named Messalina, with whom he had a son, Brittanicus. Claudius would eventually discover that his wife supposedly conspiring against him to seize power, in true Roman format. Claudius divorced her. Subsequently, he married Agrippina the Younger, who was the mother of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also known as Nero. Agrippina, hoping to position Nero to become an heir to the Roman throne, poisoned Claudius behind the scenes and succeeded in installing Nero as emperor.[10]


Photo credit: Gautier Poupeau

Nero was poised to take the throne as the Roman emperor, but only one thing stood in his way. Claudius had died, but he had a son with his previous wife, Messalina. Britannicus was the actual, rightful heir to the throne left open by the poisoning of Claudius. Agrippina the Younger, Nero’s mother, was as ambitious as she was brutaland, having already murdered Claudius, was anxious to get Britannicus out of the way.[11]

She would hire the same poisoner who murdered Claudius to do the job. Britannicus died at only 13 years old, and Nero claimed the throne, but Aggripina’s murderous ways wouldn’t go unpunished. At first, the lavish, extravagant Emperor Nero was quite popular, and he decided he no longer needed Agrippina, making the executive decision to murder his own mother.







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Did you know


… that today is Barbie Day? The first Barbie was put on sale on September 6, 1959. Creator Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. Ruth using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration for Barbie.


Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.”

— Henry Rollins



The mind is the treasure-house of learning but the heart is the treasure-house of spiritual wisdom. The so- called conflict between religion and science arises only

when there is no appreciation of the relative importance of these two types of knowledge. It is futile to try to glean knowledge of true values by exercise of the mind alone. Mind cannot tell you which things are worth having, it can only tell you how to achieve the ends accepted from non-intellectual sources. 

In most persons the mind accepts ends from the promptings of wants, but this means denial of the life of the spirit. Only when the mind accepts  its ends and values from the deepest promptings of the heart does it contribute to the life of the spirit. 

Thus mind has to work in co-operation with the heart; factual knowledge has to be subordinated to intuitive perceptions; and heart has to be allowed full freedom in determining the ends of life without any interference from the mind. The mind has a place in  life, but its role begins after the heart has had its say.

Discourses , vol 1, p144

By Meher Baba 

Copyright AMBPPCT

Thursday- RAK Movement – Random Acts of Kindness

  1. Lend a friend a book you think they’d like
  2. Pay for someone else’s meal today
  3. It’s hard to stay connected – reach out to an elderly person you know
  4. Make someone’s day – tell a friend why you appreciate them
  5. Be proactive – sign a petition for a good cause
  6. Surroundings looking messy? Tidy up the area around you
  7. Send flowers to a friend or a family member!
  8. Remember to turn the lights off when you leave a room!
  9. Help someone carry their pushchair up/down the stairs
  10. We all love surprises! Buy someone an unexpected gift

Top 10 Rare Archaeological Discoveries Involving Horses

Top 10 Rare Archaeological Discoveries Involving Horses



It is an understatement to say that horses have influenced human history. Certain empires could not have existed without them. Apart from these animals lending their power to armies, horse bones and tack have other stories to tell. Some reveal the secrets of the earliest breeders, riders, and veterinarians.

Fossils and mummies give unprecedented insight into extinct species, geological features, and modern horse biology. Even horse art can sometimes add surprising historical details.

10Clues To Tibetan Plateau

Photo credit: Live Science

Ancient animal bones can provide a kind of geographical report about the area in which they were found. In this case, a three-toed horse has added details to the youngest and highest plateau on Earth.

Today, its average elevation stands around 4,500 meters (14,800 ft). Scholars have always argued about when the so-called Tibetan plateau rose to this point and, more specifically, whether the landscape was higher or lower about five million years ago.

In 2012, a plateau skeleton from that period threw light on the matter. The Zanda horse (Hipparion zandaense) looked more like a tiny zebra with triple toes than a thoroughbred. Its feet, teeth, and long legs all indicated an animal that grazed and sprinted across open grassland. This already suggested that the area was above the tree lines.

Chemicals from the skeleton identified a diet similar to what wild asses enjoy on the Tibetan plateau today. These grasses are adapted to the kind of cold temperatures characteristic of great heights. Using all these clues, it was determined that the Zanda Basin was already at the region’s current elevation when the horse died.[1]

9Rare Hipposandals

Photo credit: BBC

In 2018, a volunteer offered to help with excavations at an ancient landmark. While digging in a ditch at the Roman fort Vindolanda in Northumberland, the volunteer found something exceedingly scarce.

Hipposandals were early Roman “horseshoes” made of metal that were meant to protect the hooves. They were a bit more elaborate than today’s crescent-shape shoe. What made the find an archaeologist’s dream was that the set of four hipposandals was complete and in an exceptional state of preservation. Even the ribbing underneath—to prevent the animal from losing traction and skidding—could still be seen.

One of the sandals showed a hairline fracture, which could be the answer to why a perfectly good set was discarded. Maybe the owner decided to chuck away the whole lot when he noticed one was cracked. Forged between AD 140–180, these iron devices were found in a ditch that was originally a trash site. It was covered with new clay foundations when another fort was built, preserving the shoes and countless more Roman treasures.[2]

8Unknown Roman-German Peace

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

The Roman Empire once collected vast territories, and one such region was modern-day Germany. Scholars always thought that the Romans restricted involvement with the locals to the occasional military raid. History tells that things got worse for both sides after AD 9 when the Germans slaughtered a much larger Roman army at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

In 2009, an artifact was discovered that suggested years of peaceful interaction. It was a 2,000-year-old golden horse head. Found inside a well at the German settlement Waldgirmes, the 25-kilogram (55 lb) head was a fragment of a statue. The intact sculpture, that of a horse and the Roman emperor Augustus, once stood at the village marketplace.

This prompted a closer look at Waldgirmes, which revealed that Romans had lived alongside Germans. The site had no military barracks to indicate a forceful occupancy. Instead, the surprisingly advanced town had Roman homes, ceramics, workshops, and a forum (the marketplace).[3]

The Teutoburg battle brought an end to many German settlements, including Waldgirmes. Within years, tensions boiled over and Romans burned Waldgirmes to the ground.

7The Utah Specimen

Photo credit: Live Science

Horses survived in North America for millions of years. Around 11,000 years ago, they became extinct. Only several millennia later did the first equestrian hooves land again on North American soil when the animals arrived with the Europeans.

An exceptionally rare thing to find in Utah is the remains of a horse from the original groups before they all died out on the continent. In 2017, that was exactly what a family found in their backyard.

Perhaps due to the scarcity and the fact that the area used to be farmland, the remains were assumed to be a cow’s skeleton. However, the creature was small, about the size of a Shetland pony.[4]

When an expert arrived, the animal was identified as a horse from the last ice age that had drowned and sunk to the bottom of a lake. There, it remained undisturbed for 16,000 years.

Determining the cause of death and gender might be impossible, but it is still considered to be a prize specimen. One day, the species might even be identified. Researchers already know that it was old (due to arthritis of the spine) and that it possibly had cancer (due to a bone growth on one leg).

6Near East Horses Came Second

Photo credit: sciencemag.org

Today, horses get all the glory. It is even assumed that people across the world rode them first.

However, a skeleton found in 2008 suggested that the first saddle in the Near East went to donkeys. When the skeleton was discovered, its importance became apparent because the donkey’s molars had the same type of damage as those of horses that wear bits.

However, no further investigation was conducted into the possibility that this might be the earliest evidence of donkey ridership in the region. Instead, the archaeologists focused on the animal’s journey and death.

Apparently, the young animal was part of an Egyptian caravan en route to the ancient city-state of Tell es-Safi. Upon arrival, the donkey was sacrificed to bless the durability of a mudbrick house erected atop it.[5]

In 2018, tests dated the donkey to around 2700 BC. This proved that people rode donkeys in the Near East for almost 1,000 years before horses arrived in the area.

5First Horse Dentists

Photo credit: sciencemag.org

At first, archaeologists could not explain the odd tooth. Rediscovered in 2018 among the archives of the National Museum of Mongolia, the tooth was crooked and sawed halfway through. The answer only dawned on them when local archaeologists who had experience with traditional horse husbandry were called in.

The tooth belonged to a horse which had been ritually sacrificed and buried over 3,000 years ago. Shortly before the animal was killed, the owner attempted to flatten the crooked incisor to lessen the animal’s pain. For whatever reason, the operation was abandoned and the horse met its end.

Despite the unsuccessful attempt, this is one of the first recorded cases of veterinary dentistry. In addition, this is a very early look at Mongolian horsemanship, something that would eventually change the history of Eurasia in the 13th century and bring Genghis Khan’s empire to power.[6]

As horses became more important to the region, skills that included dentistry were perfected to better take care of the animals. Historians doubt that Genghis Khan’s powerful reign would have happened if it were not for Mongolian horsemanship.

4An Extinct Foal

Photo credit: Live Science

Between 30,000–40,000 years ago, a foal died in an area of modern-day Siberia. The two-month-old baby perished in a mysterious way that left little damage to the body. Whether it drowned or died of an illness, the tiny corpse became trapped in permafrost. As time went by, its species—the Lena horse—became extinct, along with many other ice age animals.

In 2018, scientists were clambering about in the 100-meter-deep (328 ft) Batagaika crater when they found the foal. The animal is officially the best-preserved specimen of an ancient horse.

The mummy, which measured 98 centimeters (39 in) tall at the shoulder, was remarkably intact. Soft tissue, skin, hooves, hairs inside the nostrils, and the tail all survived.

Wild horses are still in the region today, but none are genetically related to the Lena species (Equus caballus lenensis) in any way. To find out more about the extinct horse, future tests will look at the foal’s diet and possible cause of death.[7]

3Prehistoric Pregnant Mare

Photo credit: Live Science

The Messel Pit site in Germany is known for well-preserved fossils. In 2014, it produced the body of a pregnant mare that died around 47 million years ago. She was in excellent condition and revealed a surprise.

It was not the nearly full-term foal, but the way in which it was carried. Researchers did not expect to find nearly identical similarities to modern mares in her reproductive system. Just like today, the prehistoric horse had a crumpled outer uterine wall and a ligament connecting the uterus to the backbone.[8]

This does not seem strange until one considers the physical differences. The tiny mare was about as big as a fox terrier and hailed from an evolutionary time when horses still had four toes on their front feet and three on each hind leg.

Despite the ancient mare looking very different from modern horses, the find showed that some elements of the equine reproductive system were already in place millions of years ago.

2The Botai Tamers

Photo credit: sciencemag.org

Few people realize how hotly scholars debate the subject of who tamed the first horses. The leading theory supports a Bronze Age people called the Yamnaya. It was also assumed that they handed their skills to a much simpler hunter-gatherer group, the Botai from Kazakhstan (3700–3100 BC).

However, new genetic tests and horse remains complicate this picture. The earliest signs of horse domestication in Asia come from the Botai, including traces of mare’s milk inside a vessel and a bit-worn tooth. Even so, researchers have argued that the culture had to learn horsemanship elsewhere because they remained hunter-gatherers long after others around them became farmers.

In 2018, DNA showed that the Botai were not as incapable as previously believed. It was already known that they were an isolated culture, but tests on ancient Botai individuals showed no Yamnaya DNA. The Yamnaya people had a habit of spreading their genes wherever they went.[9]

A lack of Yamnaya heritage around the time the Botai already had mounts strongly suggests that they domesticated horses first. Tests on Botai horses also revealed no link to modern animals, more evidence that the two cultures developed separate domestication with different horse breeds.

1Ancient Breeders Absolved

Photo credit: phys.org

Today’s horses reflect many traits influenced by the decisions of ancient breeders. One of them is the limited Y-chromosome pool. Modern stallions all share a similar Y, which led to the belief that early breeders used only a few males. Modern equestrians frown at this bad genetic practice because millennia of inbreeding have left horses with segments called detrimental DNA.

In 2016, horse remains were taken from Scythian graves and sites where hundreds of the animals were ritually buried thousands of years ago. The Scythians from Kazakhstan were superb riders and warriors (during the ninth to first centuries BC).

When 11 stallions were analyzed from one royal tomb, none were inbred and there was no detrimental DNA. This meant that ancient breeders acted responsibly and used a healthy number of stallions instead of the assumed few.

The study also found that the Scythians allowed wild horses to interbreed with their stock. The buildup of detrimental genes and a shrunken male pool happened sometime during the past 2,000 years, long after the existence of the breeders who were blamed.[10]