Weird History

The Roman Emperor Who Might Have Died By Having Molten Gold Poured Down His Throat

Death by molten gold isn’t just a grisly Game of Thrones invention. In the third century, a Roman emperor named Valerian is alleged to have died when his rival poured liquid gold down his throat. Valerian’s gruesome death was nearly as bad as the horrific executions in Henry VIII’s time, and that's really saying something. Unfortunately for Valerian, his execution was only one part of his humiliating captivity in the hands of the Persians. That is, if we're to believe the account of Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, an early Christian author who was no fan of Valerian's.

According to Lactantius, Persian King Shapur I captured Valerian in battle and tormented him relentlessly. He used Emperor Valerian as a footstool, mocked him, and stuffed his flayed skin with straw. The humiliation of Emperor Valerian was so bad that his own son didn’t even try to rescue him. 

What happened to Emperor Valerian after his capture at the Battle of Edessa? King Shapur I and the Roman Emperor Valerian came from clashing superpowers, and the Persians made an example of Valerian to taunt Romans with their lost glory. The question of whether this involved a life of imprisonment and a fade into nothingness or a violent death by way of having molten gold poured down his throat is one to which we'll likely never have a definitive answer.