If you are an individual that pairs a wine with every meal, you may appreciate that there are plenty of options to buy wine jewelry. Sites like Etsy offer wine-themed charms, bracelets, necklaces, and more that can advertise your love for wine. Wine jewelry is also a great gift for wine lovers. If you like the darker side of history, you may also enjoy poison rings and their link to wine. Wearing a poison ring adds a dark twist if you combine the ring with wine jewelry.
Wine’s Direct Link to Poison
Stories make it seem like wine was often poisoned in order to get rid of adversaries. In fact, royals were extremely afraid of being poisoned at meal time. They took special precautions to be safe. For example, royals often had their food and drinks taste tested before eating to ensure that the food was safe. Some courts actually had their servants lick and kiss the silverware and plates that the royals were about to use in order to test for poison.
An article written in 1951 talked about a peculiar method that royals would use to ensure that their food and drink were poison free. It was a strange misconception that unicorn horns could both detect poison and nullify the effects of poison. Unicorn horns were said to react to nearby poison by trembling and/or sweating. Royals believed that dipping unicorn horns into their wine and other drinks would also cure any poison that may be in the drink.
So where did these royals find the unicorn horns? Most people would think of forests or meadows as the ideal habitat for unicorns. However, Europeans were shocked when they kept finding unicorn horns just laying around northern beaches. We now know that these “unicorn horns”, that were said to cure poison, were just narwhal tusks. Narwhals were not discovered until 1684. People also used to mistakenly use the fossilized tooth of a fish to protect them from poison. The fish was called a Lepidote. Just like how the narwhal tusks were called “unicorn horns”, people had mistaken the fossilized fish as a part of a toad.
The fish were used to create rings that were called toad rings. The rings were supposed to heat up when they were near poison. They were also said to cure kidney disease and protect against venom. You may have also noticed that goblets were commonly bejeweled. Most people assume that the drinkware had jewels merely as a show of wealth. The true story isn’t quite as normal. People began to believe that gemstones had unique abilities that could help the holder. Some people still believe in the natural abilities of gemstones and crystals. Gemstones used to be used as a way to dispel poisons that were poured into drink ware. While this doesn’t actually work in real life, it is one of the reasons that jewels were so popular.
Poison Rings and Their Connection to Wine Poisonings
What Are Poison Rings?
Poison rings are rings with secret compartments that were rumored to hold poison. The rings were said to be a discrete way to hide poison. Individuals could potentially release a poison into a drink, like wine, at an opportune time. The use of poison rings to poison royalty was a huge fear in the 16th century when they gained popularity. The term “poison ring” also gained popularity around this time.
The secret compartment of these rings was commonly used to hold small items of importance to the wearer. It may seem morbid to us now that body parts would ever be considered good luck charms. However, carrying around the body parts of a saint was said to bring good luck to the wearer. The small compartments of the rings would often contain the teeth, hair, and bones of saints. Around the Rennaissance time period, these secret compartments were also used to hold things like portraits or hair of loved ones.
Were Poison Rings Ever Actually Used to Hide Poison?
There are not many historically recorded moments where poison rings were actually used to kill someone. It has been historically noted that the Romans used the rings in order to commit suicide before being arrested by their enemies. The idea was to kill themselves before the enemy could torture them and more than likely kill them in a harsher way. Any secret information that the Roman may have had would also have been lost with their death. While poison rings were occasionally used as a last resort suicide method, murders using poison rings were much rarer.
What Are Some Notable Poison Ring Suicides?
A famous suicide victim that used a poison ring to end their life was Hannibal Barca. Hannibal Barca was a noteworthy Carthage general who fought against the Romans in the Second Punic War. He had been victorious at Cannae. However, he never managed to capture Rome. He lost a battle at Zama and had to flee. He sought refuge with Prusias of Bithynia but he was betrayed. Instead of keeping Hannibal safe, Prusias had decided to turn Hannibal over to the Romans. Hannibal decided that dying was better than being arrested by the Romans. He drank poison from a vial hidden underneath a gem in his ring and passed away.Another example of a possible suicide due to a poison ring may have been Demosthenes.
The circumstances surrounding his death are not entirely clear. It has been noted that he died by ingesting poison hidden in an item. However, historians are not completely certain as to what the item was. Some individuals claim that Demosthenes used a poison ring to kill himself. However, Plutarch wrote in the “Life ofDemosthenes” that Demosthenes died from poison that he hid in a pen reed. Plutarch claimed that Demosthenes asked to write a farewell letter. The story goes that Demosthenes began to write a letter under the close watch of guards. He nibbled on the pen reed while he was writing and the guards thought nothing unusual of this action. It seemed like Demosthenes was merely thinking about what to write next. However, Demosthenes had actually hidden poison in the pen reed, in the case of an emergency. He used poison hidden in the pen reed in order to kill himself. He had decided that death was better than prison.
What Are Some Notable Poison Ring Murders?
This is where things get tricky. There probably were many more murders than were recorded. However, proving a murder using a poison ring was hard during this time. Doctors did not give accurate autopsies. Poison rings were also extremely discrete. You could easily pour a drink and release the poison without anyone noticing. Accusing a noble or royal of murder could also be a punishable offense if there was no proof.
Therefore, there are individuals that we believe may have used poisoning as a means to eliminate their enemies. However, it was extremely hard to prove in the past. Lucrezia Borgia, who became Governor of Spoleto, was said to poison the drinks of her enemies with a poison ring. She is famous for the act but it is unclear as to if she actually committed murder.