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Scythians shooting with the Scythian bow, Kerch (ancient Panticapeum), Crimea, 4th century BC.

Pick Your Poison: The AK-47 of the Ancient Near East

The Scythian bow was the AK-47 of the Ancient Near East and the weapon of choice to dominate the battlefield. Even though the bow was uniquely designed to deliver the utmost damage, the arrow itself...
Was Wang Mang a visionary, or a murderous villain – or both? (Wang Mang art italkcafe.com, The Analects of Confucius; Deriv)

The Emperor is Dead, Let Confucianism and Chaos Reign! The Rise and Fall of Wang Mang and the Xin Dynasty

Some saw Wang Mang as an evil usurper – others a selfless visionary. Either way, an emperor lay dead, and a learned Confucian scholar sought to bring peace and harmony, but the dynasty would descend...
A bottle of an elixir.

Seeking Life but Finding Death: Deadly Chinese Elixirs of Immortality

The elixir of immortality (known also as the ‘elixir of life’) is a legendary substance found in many ancient cultures. This elixir is expected to grant eternal life to the person who consumes it...
A Frog underwater with a crown.

An Ambiguous Amphibian: The Everchanging Frog Symbol in World Myth

Frogs and toads played a wide variety of roles in ancient cultures. Although there are some differences, they generally represented female creation energy. Frogs appear in ancient stories, myths,...
Roman fresco with banquet scene from the Casa dei Casti Amanti

Savoring the Danger: ‘Sugar of Lead’ Was Used to Flavor Roman Food and Wine with Toxic Consequences

How far did ancient people go to enhance the flavor of their food and drinks? Would they consume toxic substances if it made things a little more appetizing? The Romans did, by adding a sweet version...
Detail of ‘Man eating noodles’ (1656) by Jan Vermeer van Utrecht.

A Deadly Bite: The Plight of the Ancient Food Taster

Poison was a potent weapon that could be used by would-be assassins to get rid of their targets. This was especially useful when the target was a person in power and was surrounded by bodyguards. One...
The Great Horned Serpent was powerful and magical in Native American mythology.

Drowning, Poisoning, and the Dark Underworld. Meet the King of all Snakes, the wise Great Horned Serpent in Native American Cosmology

Since longer than history can recall, the western mind has been locked in a pattern of dualistic thinking. In the course of our experiences, the world is defined by a series of opposites, which...
Some Saxon Queens had killer reputations. (Public Domain);Deriv.

The Wicked Queen and Her Scandalous Daughter: How Murder & Mayhem Took a Saxon Princess from Palace to Poverty

While we might be gripped by the intrigues, the machinations, and the violence of the Lannisters and the Starks in the Game of Thrones television series and the Song of Ice and Fire series of novels...
Locustra testing Poison by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre

10 Ancient Serial Killers That Foreshadowed Jack The Ripper

What makes someone a serial killer? Even though psychologists and criminologists have been working for decades to accurately define and identify what makes a person commit such cold-blooded murders...
It’s Driving Them Out of Their Minds: The First Big Poisoning in Ancient Rome

It’s Driving Them Out of Their Minds: The First Big Poisoning in Ancient Rome

There were quite a few methods of offing rivals available to criminals in ancient Rome, but poisoning became a popular one by the early imperial period. Perhaps the first widespread ring wreaking...
The Medieval ring found in Kavarna, Bulgaria (Image: Kavarna Municipality)

Jewelry to Die For: 14th-Century Bulgarian Ring with a Killer Dose

When a medieval ring was uncovered by Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the remains of the medieval fortress on Cape Kaliakra, near the town of Kavarna on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, they were...
Alexander on his deathbed, surrounded by mourners, and dictating his will to his notary, Unknown Flemish artist

The Cold Case of Alexander the Great: Have Toxicologists Finally Explained His Untimely Death?

It might be a surprise to learn that Alexander the Great was only 32 when he died in Babylon in June 323 BC. In a short period of 12 years as ruler he managed to create an empire stretching from...
Painting from the Ajanta Caves, India.

The Venomous Visha Kanyas Versus the Thugs: Which Would You Prefer Were Real?

Even a touch can kill. The Visha Kanyas were supposedly poisonous young women who operated as executioners in ancient India. Any contact with these toxic ladies would mean death. However, no one can...
Hannibal Barca (by Sébastien Slodtz) and Battle of Zama, 202 BC

Inside the Mind of Hannibal: What Caused Him to Become Rome’s Most Hated Man?

Watching your father’s brave, heroic and selfless act in order to preserve your own life must leave a permanent mark. They were fearsome and powerful Vetton warriors, and when they saw his father’s...
Hercules and Deianira circa 1475–80.

An Unfortunate Fate and Nasty Gods: The Tragic Story of Mythical Deianira and Her Lover Hercules

Deianira became a famous heroine after the release of the TV show ''Hercules,'' with Kevin Sorbo, and the Disney movie about the mythical hero. Her real story, although still juicy, isn't the same...
Exhibit featuring Mongolian arrows, and Mongolian soldier model

How Did They Do It? Masters of the Steppe: Armed to the Teeth with Weapons and Poison—Part II

Much is known about the ancient Mongol military and their incredible victories on the battlefield, but little is ever discussed about their arms, armor, horses, and logistics. What gear did they use...

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