Pharmapolitics and the Early Roman Expansion: Gender, Slavery, and Ecology in 331 BCE

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This article reinterprets an incident that Livy (8.18.4-11) and derivative later sources place in the year 331 BCE: a wave of poisonings whose perpetrators are brought to light after an enslaved woman contacts a Roman magistrate. Its main objectives are to show that the incident is best understood in connection with the transmission of novel-or perceived as novel-pharmacological knowledge, and in conjunction with shifts in the institution of slavery at Rome that were set in motion by the Republic's expansion; that a key figure in the mythological encoding of this transmission was the legendary Circe; and that moving away from previous scholarship's concern with the matronae alleged to have carried out the poisonings and focusing instead on “la servant délatrice” (Jean-Marie Pailler) opens up new corridors into the cultural history of this period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-194
Number of pages36
JournalClassical Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics


  • Hellenization
  • Roman Middle Republic
  • ancient science and medicine
  • comparative slavery studies
  • gender
  • imperialism
  • poison
  • religion
  • slavery
  • state formation


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