What You Don't Know About Poisoning Really Bringing Down the Roman Empire
What You Don’t Know About Poisoning Really Bringing Down the Roman Empire

What You Don’t Know About Poisoning Really Bringing Down the Roman Empire

Natasha sheldon - November 30, 2017

What You Don’t Know About Poisoning Really Bringing Down the Roman Empire
Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. Google Images

Was Antimony Rome’s Nemesis?

Antimony is an element often used as an alloy with tin and lead. So it would have formed part of Roman water pipes. Because of its composition, the metal could have leached into the water supply with greater ease than lead-calcium carbonate furring notwithstanding. Furthermore, if taken in the right form and the correct quantity, antimony is much more hazardous to health, its effects being much more immediate and toxic.

Victims would probably initially noticed themselves afflicted with vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms may have seemed like a mild stomach upset. But antimony poisoning also made its victims thirsty. So they would have drunk more water. As a result, the symptoms would have increased, until in worst cases scenario, the vomiting and diarrhea became so severe that the victim suffered dehydration. Ultimately, antimony poisoning can lead to liver and kidney failure and cardiac arrest.

The Danish team published their findings in a brief report in the journal, Toxicology Letters. However, the press blew these brief results out of proportion -through no fault of Rasmussen and his research team, who were utterly candid about the fact more research was needed. “It’s only one sample,” Rasmussen emphasized. “We know we should measure more.”

What You Don’t Know About Poisoning Really Bringing Down the Roman Empire
A Sample of Antimony. Google Images.

Rasmussen also stresses the localized nature of the findings. In the first few paragraphs of the report, he states: “We show that health concerns in Pompeii were most likely the result of antimony (Sb) intoxication.” Pompeii. Not the whole of the empire. Rasmussen also notes that Pompeiis’ waters were particularly susceptible to contamination by high levels of antimony because they were near a volcano. This fact makes antimony poisoning more likely in Pompeii as the element naturally occurs in the groundwater. However, it was not necessarily the case elsewhere in the empire.

Then there is still the question of how much antimony people would have ingested from the water supply. The team built a loop system of lead pipes soldered with antimony to test its effect on water. For four weeks, the team pumped water around the pipes. At the end of the test period, it revealed a high level of antimony toxicity. However, in Pompeii, the same water did not continually flow around a system of pipes. Instead, it ran downhill from water cisterns on the higher level of the town straight to the point of use. It would not have passed in the same direction twice-limiting its contact with any antimony in the system.

More sampling, over a more extensive area coupled with skeletal analysis, is needed before antimony can take the blame for the fall of an empire.


Sources For Further Reading:

Arstechnical – Did Lead Poisoning Cause Downfall of Roman Empire?

Encyclopedia Britannica – Track Down the Theories of Either Lead Poisoning or Malaria for The Decline of The Roman Empire

Science Daily – Poisonings Went Hand in Hand with The Drinking Water in Ancient Pompeii

Cultura Colectiva – From Caligula to Nero: There Might Be a Scientific Explanation for Their Eccentricities

Facts & Details – Drinks in Ancient Rome

Ranker – Roman Aristocrats Poisoned Themselves with Artificial Sweetener And It May Have Destroyed The Empire

Alcohol Problem & Solution – Alcohol among the Greeks and Romans: They Enjoyed Drinking

JSTOR – The Myth of Lead Poisoning Among the Romans: An Essay Review

Medical Daily – A Brief History of Lead Poisoning: From Ancient Rome to Michigan

VOX – Lead Water Pipes Didn’t Destroy the Roman Empire, After All

Tales of Times Forgotten – Why Lead Poisoning Probably Did Not Cause the Downfall of the Roman Empire

Science Nordic – Pompeii Residents Were Screwed Before the Volcanic Eruption

History Collection – Downfall: 5 Reasons Why the Roman Empire Collapsed