Volume 1 in Toxicology in Antiquity
2014, Pages 21–34
Chapter 3 – Mithridates of Pontus and His Universal Antidote
Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus (b. ca. 134 bc) ruled a Black Sea Empire to rival the Roman Republic in a series of wars that lasted decades. As Rome’s most dangerous enemy until his death in 63 bc, Mithridates is recognized as the first experimental toxicologist for his extensive investigations into a vast number of poisons and antidotes. Fearing assassination by poison, he gathered a team of botanists, physicians, and shamans seeking to create a “universal antidote” that would protect him from all poisons. Influenced by traditional theriacs and previous investigators and with access to rich natural resources, Mithridates’ experiments resulted in a formulation of more than 50 ingredients combining animal, plant, and mineral toxins with antidotes. He made himself immune to normally fatal amounts of arsenic and enjoyed robust health until forced to commit suicide in his 70s. Efforts to replicate his famous Mithridatium made his antidote the most popular and long-lived prescription in history.
- Alexander the Great
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