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Case Closed: Claudius Killed by Mushrooms

Although the Roman Empire enjoyed stability and expansion under the reign of Claudius, the Emperor himself had a rough go of it. A victim of partial paralysis and a movement disorder, Claudius limped, drooled and had difficulty speaking. And last Friday, at the seventh annual clinicopathologic conference (CPC), William Valente from the University of Maryland School of Medicine confirmed that Claudius' fourth wife, Agrippina, ultimately did him in with a dose of poisoned mushrooms. The motive? Clearing the way for her son Nero to take the throne.

"The medical and historical evidence suggests that Claudius was given mushrooms that contained muscarine, a deadly toxin that attacks the nervous system, causing a wide range of agonizing symptoms," Valente says. Indeed, on October 13, AD 54, the Emperor, then aged 64, developed extreme abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, low blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Within 12 hours of his snack al funghi, he was dead. Although mushrooms were the murder weapon, Claudius may have actually died from "de una uxore nimia," Valente jokes, a latin phrase meaning "one too many wives."
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