The 14th-Century Bulgarian Ring of Death
Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the remains of the medieval fortress on Cape Kaliakra, near the town of Kavarna on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, last year found a well-preserved man’s ring which appears to have been used for discretely poisoning a victim.
The poison ring has a small container welded to the bezel, which would have been used to carry poison, and a tiny hole that would have allowed the wearer to easily dispense a drop into someone’s food or drink.
“I have no doubts that the hole is there on purpose and the ring was worn on the right hand, because the hole was made in such a way so as to be covered by a finger, so that the poison can be dropped at a moment’s notice. Clearly, it was not worn constantly and would have been put on when necessary,” said Boni Petrunova, the Deputy Director of the National Archaeology Institute and Museum in Sofia.
The ring, which is the first of its kind found in Bulgaria, was found in an area that housed the local aristocracy. It may well have been used for politically-motivated murder in the second half of the 14 th century during the conflict between the ruler of the independent, Dobrotitsa, and his son Ivanko Terter, in which many nobles were killed.
The use of poison to kill or maim stretches back millennia. According to historical records, the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes committed suicide in 322 B.C. after escaping capture and reaching sanctuary on the island of Calauria. As he was about to be arrested, he drank poison concealed in a “hollow ring, which he wore about his arm,” as written in Plutarch’s Lives, a 1906 book.
But the use of poison as a murder weapon really took off in the 8th century, when an Arab chemist turned arsenic into an odourless, tasteless, undetectable powder, making it an attractive murder weapon. By the Renaissance, people were selling poison rings, knives, letters, and even poison lipstick.
A famous case of murder by poison in Bulgaria relates to the period of Kaloyan the Romanslayer, who ruled as emperor of Bulgaria 1197 – 1207. After his death, Kaloyan’s consort, who had married his successor Boril of Bulgaria, took part in the assassination of her son-in-law Henry of Flanders, who died of poison on 11 June, 1216.