The Classical Quarterly (New Series)


On the Mushroom that Deified the Emperor Claudius

Veronika Grimm-Samuela1

a1 The Hebrew University, Rehovot

From Pliny the Elder, who was his contemporary, to the present, the unhappy ending of the fourth Julio-Claudian emperor's life is often and uncritically retold. Thus Agrippina's poisoned mushrooms have become proverbial through the writings of Pliny, Juvenal and others. Historical evidence surrounding the circumstances of his death is, however, vague, contradictory, and open to alternative explanations. In the present note I shall argue for the simplest of these: that the emperor Claudius died after having ingested – either through criminal intent, or by sheer accident – the most W poisonous of mushrooms, Amanita phalloides or Death Cap.