The ancient world was a dangerous place, filled with bloody battles, despotic rulers, and perilous wild animals. It was also a time of discovery, when philosophers and scientists were still learning how the world worked through trial and error - and some of those errors were deadly.
Here is a list of the some of the weirdest deaths in ancient Greece, Rome, and the rest of the classical world. There are gruesome punishments, like being forced to drink molten gold, and absurd accidents, like an eagle accidentally killing one of the world's greatest playwrights. In some cases, these weird deaths were the result of bad luck, and in others, bad judgment, like the king who gave himself mercury poisoning trying to live forever, or the philosopher who leapt into a volcano to prove he was a god.
From being crushed by an elephant to smothered by clothes, many notable figures of the ancient world died in very strange ways - and in some cases, bizarre things continued to happen to their body parts after they died, too. Read on for a list of the strangest deaths of the classical world.
Mithridates: Covered in Milk and Honey, Consumed by Insects
Mithridates was a young Persian soldier in the army of King Artaxerxes II. According to Plutarch, in 401 BC, Mithridates killed Artaxerxes's rival, his brother Cyrus, in a freak accident.
Of course, Artaxerxes took credit for slaying the mighty Cyrus himself, so when Mithridates got drunk and told everyone the real story, the enraged king sentenced him to death by scaphism.
What is scaphism? Plutarch explains that a prisoner is trapped between two hollow logs or row boats, then
they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards.
Mithridates survived for 17 days, covered in milk, honey, and his own feces, before dying from a combination of dehydration, starvation, and septic shock.
Mithridates was a Persian of high rank, and son-in-law of the king Darius III, who was slain by Alexander the Great with his own hand, at the Battle of the Granicus in 334 BC, when he plunged his lance through Mithridates' face. ...more
Hypatia of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, and the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria. In her time, she was widely respected, and was later elevated as a feminist icon.
Unfortunately, Hypatia lived at a time when the Roman governor Orestes was feuding with the Christian bishop Cyril of Alexandria. Rumors spread that Hypatia was encouraging Orestes in his persecution of the city's Christians and Jews. An angry mob of Christians kidnapped her and carried her off to a church, where they stripped off her clothes and tore off her flesh with sharp sea shells, potsherds, and roof tiles.
(An alternate account of her death by the Christian John of Nikiû admits that a mob of Christians kidnapped Hypatia, tore off her clothes, and dragged her to death, but shows considerably less sympathy for the "pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments.")
Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Byzantine Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy. According to contemporary sources, Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob after being ...more
Age: Died at 65 (350-415)
Birthplace: Alexandria, Egypt
Profession: Librarian, Mathematician, Scientist, Philosopher, Astronomer
Also Rankedsee more on Hypatia: Skinned Alive by Seashells
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who is considered one of the wealthiest men in all of human history, with a net worth of nearly $20 billion in modern terms. He crushed the slave revolt led by Spartacus, and was a member of the First Triumvirate alongside his ally Julius Caesar and his rival Pompey. He was also notorious for a number of crimes, from shady real estate swindles to arson to corrupting a vestal virgin.
After losing to the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, Crassus was forced to drink a goblet of molten gold, symbolizing his great wealth. (Another more probable, if less exciting, version recounts that the molten gold was poured into his mouth after he'd already died.)
But that wasn't the end of Crassus's indignities. According to Plutarch, after Crassus died, he was beheaded and his head was used as a prop in a production of the Euripides's play The Bacchae, where an actor held up the head and made it sing a song.
If that weren't bad enough, Plutarch adds that as a final insult, the Parthians found a Roman prisoner who resembled Crassus, dressed him in women's clothing, and led him in a mocking "triumphal procession," laughing and sarcastically calling "Crassus" and "Imperator."
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who played a key role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Amassing an enormous fortune during his life, Crassus is considered the wealthiest man in Roman history, and among the richest men in all ...more
Age: Died at 62 (114 BC-52 BC)
Birthplace: Roman Republic
Profession: Politiciansee more on Marcus Licinius Crassus: Drank a Goblet of Molten Gold
Eleazar Avaran: Crushed to Death by a War Elephant
A Jewish soldier who fought in the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid empire, Eleazar Avaran is primarily remembered today for the way that he died. According to 1 Maccabees, during the Battle of Beth-Zechariah in 162 BC, Eleazar spotted a war elephant that he believed carried the enemy king Antiochus V. He heroically rushed underneath the war elephant and thrust a spear into its belly, killing it - and himself, because the dead elephant immediately crushed him to death.
Eleazar's final act was a popular subject for artists in the Middle Ages. His willing self-sacrifice was said to prefigure the crucifixion of Jesus, and the manner of this sacrifice was a great chance to paint an elephant. Of course, most medieval painters had never seen an elephant in real life, and it shows.
Eleazar Avaran, also known as Eleazar Maccabeus, Eleazar Hachorani/Choran was the fourth son of Mattathias and the younger brother of Judas Maccabeus. He was killed at the Battle of Beth-zechariah during the Maccabean revolt. Little is known About Eleazar, except his heroic death as was told. ...more