History of Toxicology and Environmental HealthToxicology in Antiquity II
2015, Pages 42–51
Chapter 4 – Poisoning in Ancient Rome: The Legal Framework, The Nature of Poisons, and Gender Stereotypes1
- Available online 25 September 2014
In the late Roman Republic, a law was enacted to deal with “poisoners” (venefici). The lex Cornelia de veneficis established a permanent court that tried those who prepared, sold, purchased, kept, or administered poisons for the purpose of killing a person. But “poisoning” (veneficium) also encompassed practices of magic able to alter someone’s body or mind. Jurists (i.e., legal counselors), together with measures enacted by the Senate and the Emperors, extended the application of the statute to include pharmaceutical misuse. Sources frequently testify to lethal accidents committed during the first century ce. Poisoning was considered a female crime. Narratives of rhetorical training for the courts depict mainly women as veneficae because of their heinous character and weak nature. These techniques of argumentation and stereotypes of the female sex were destined to survive in social imagination as well as in forensic and medical literature through the centuries.
- lex Cornelia de veneficis;
- medical/toxic substances;
- pharmaceutical abuse/drug misuse;
- The ancient Greek and Latin sources have been translated into English by the authors of this article. For the translation of the text from Italian into English we are obliged to Sebastian Puchas and Marlene Peinhopf. We thank Aglaia McClintock for checking the abstract.