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Pharmaceutical poisons. Source: Tryfonov / Adobe Stock.

The Deadly Trail of Arsenic Through the Ages (Video)


Arsenic, a silent but deadly weapon, has stained history with its ominous presence. From ancient Rome to the 19th century, this odorless and tasteless poison has claimed countless lives. Arsenic's insidious nature made it the choice of murderers. Symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, often attributed to common illnesses, masked its presence. A tiny amount could kill, and it was effortlessly concealed in food or drink. The infamous Borgia family used arsenic-laced wine to eliminate adversaries, exploiting their control of church law to seize their victims' wealth.

In 17th-century Italy, Giulia Tofana sold Aqua Tofana, disguised as makeup, to desperate women seeking escape from oppressive marriages. The poison claimed hundreds of lives before her execution. The 19th century witnessed a surge in arsenic poisonings, frequently implicating women like Marie Lafarge. Arsenic's ready availability and low cost made it a sinister choice. Beyond its role as a poison, arsenic was used in cosmetics, where it caused harm in the pursuit of pale complexions. It also served as a stimulant, a tonic for Austrian mountaineers, a treatment for syphilis and was even used in wallpaper. Arsenic's dark legacy reminds us of humanity's capacity for destruction and misguided innovation.

Top image: Pharmaceutical poisons. Source: Tryfonov / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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