Poisons and Poisoning in the Republic of Dubrovnik

Poisons and Poisoning in the Republic of Dubrovnik

By Zdravko Šundrica

Dubrovnik Annals, No.4 (2000)

Abstract: Dubrovnik authorities occasionally resorted to poisoning as a means of resolving state affairs. A number of the Republic’s enemies and undesirable prisoners were removed or suspected to have been eliminated by poisoning. Poison was used as a protective measure in times of war, when the Ragusans contaminated the water tanks in the area. Dubrovnik archives reveal a variety of poisoning cases among Ragusan citizens over the centuries, only to prove that, if uncommon, this method was not looked upon as the most popular one. This article discusses the government regulations governing the storage and safe-keeping of poisons in the Dubrovnik Republic, types of poisons and their origin, toxicology from the perspective of contemporary medical practice, and antidotal therapy.

Excerpt: Located between the great powers of East and West, the Dubrovnik Republic represented a commercial link between the two civilizations. It was a gathering place of merchants, as many maritime and land routes connected this mart with the rest of the world. Here they traded raw materials from the Balkan lands and products from the West. Dubrovnik was soon to assume a role, first as a middleman and later as a center of intelligence service, that was valuable to both East and West. It is to this fortunate geopolitical position that the Republic of Dubrovnik owed its independence and prosperity over the centuries. Had the small city-state been a serious threat to any of the great powers, it would not have sustained its life as long as it did. This does not go to say, however, that the Republic survived solely on account of its favorable political position. Ragusa’s diplomacy, beyond all doubt, contributed remarkably to its prosperity. Guided by the maxim “Seek protection from the powerful, maintain good relations with the weak, attain neutrality in all conflicts,” Ragusan diplomacy is generally credited for being the strongest means of the Republic’s self-defense.

In order to achieve these goals, Dubrovnik’s diplomatic practice resorted to various methods, which I do not intend to dilate upon in this paper. One such practice was poisoning, a method as old as diplomacy itself. It is therefore only natural that this ancient practice found its place in Ragusan diplomacy which, as far as poisoning is concerned, was patterned after both Byzantine and Venetian diplomacy.

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