Return to Wine
"The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them."
A 1983 article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Jerome Nriagu, a geochemist, rekindled a debate that had been dormant for almost two decades. There, and in a book published later that year, he argued that "lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman empire." Yet, a review by Scarborough, a pharmacist and classicist, found the book to be "so full of false evidence, miscitations, typographical errors, and a blatant flippancy regarding primary sources that the reader cannot trust the basic arguments." He concluded that, although ancient authorities were aware of lead poisoning, it was not endemic in the Roman empire nor caused its fall. Waldron, a specialist in both occupational medicine and archaeology, also criticized the author for not using primary sources and being uncritical of the translated material that he did use, cautioning that "The decline of the Roman Empire is a phenomenon of great complexity and it is simplistic to ascribe it to a single cause." More than thirty years later, Scarborough's comments still rankled, Nriagu retorting in an interview that he "knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about lead poisoning, Absolutely zero." Such was the contention that the topic evoked.
Lead (Pb) does not occur in an elemental state but is a by-product of silver mining. Extracted from galena ore (PbS, lead sulfide), which is crushed and smelted, the lead was further refined by the Romans in a furnace made hotter still by blasts of forced air from a bellows (Pliny, Natural History, XXXIII.159). The oxidized lead (PbO, litharge), which was contained in a porous crucible of crushed bone ash, was absorbed, leaving behind a trace amount of silver in a process called "cupellation" (from the cupel used to collect the metal). The lead itself then was recovered by smelting the litharge again with galena, the lead oxide combining with lead sulfide to form metallic lead and sulfur dioxide (2PbO + PbS = 3Pb + SO2).
The ore was readily abundant and in Britannia so near the surface that restrictions limited the quantity that could be produced (XXXIV.164). Once smelted, the lead (plumbum) was easily malleable and had a low melting point—ideal for the production of water pipes, which were fabricated by plumbarii (plumbers) from fitted rolled sheets in a variety of diameters (Pliny, XXXI.58; Vitruvius, On Architecture, VIII.6.1ff; Frontinus, On the Aqueducts of Rome, I.37ff). Together with concrete, sheets of lead also were used to line the channels of Roman aqueducts (cf. Vitruvius, II.6.1).
But lead also was known to be dangerous and, for that reason, pipes made of clay were preferred—as Vitruvius, who wrote during the time of Augustus, explains.
"Water conducted through earthen pipes is more wholesome than that through lead; indeed that conveyed in lead must be injurious, because from it white lead [PbCO3, lead carbonate] is obtained, and this is said to be injurious to the human system. Hence, if what is generated from it is pernicious, there can be no doubt that itself cannot be a wholesome body. This may be verified by observing the workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour; for in casting lead, the fumes from it fixing on the different members, and daily burning them, destroy the vigour of the blood; water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome. That the flavour of that conveyed in earthen pipes is better, is shewn at our daily meals, for all those whose tables are furnished with silver vessels, nevertheless use those made of earth, from the purity of the flavour being preserved in them" (VIII.6.10-11).
Columella remarks on the advantage of terracotta pipes as well. "Rain-water is after all most suitable to the body's health, and is regarded as uncommonly good if it is conveyed through earthen pipes into a covered cistern" (On Agriculture, I.5.2). Not only wholesome, rainwater was known to have the least amount of contamination (Celsus, On Medicine, II.18.12)—as Hippocrates had observed more than four hundred years earlier. "Rain waters, then, are the lightest, the sweetest, the thinnest, and the clearest" (On Airs, Waters, and Places, VIII). Horace celebrated spring water for the same reason, asking "Is the water purer which in city-streets struggles to burst its leaden pipes than that which dances and purls adown the sloping brook?" (Epistles, X.20-21).
Slightly acidic, rain dissolves carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form a weak solution of carbonic acid, which in turn reacts with calcium hydroxide (the slaked lime that, together with volcanic ash and aggregate, comprised Roman concrete) to form calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Water from the river Anio, which fed two of Rome's principal aqueducts, the Aqua Anio Vetus and Aqua Anio Novus, was particularly hard and conveyed high levels of dissolved calcium carbonate. Indeed, Frontinus complains in his treatise on the aqueducts of Rome, that "the accumulation of deposit, which sometimes hardens into a crust, contracts the channel of the water" (CXXII.1). At Nîmes, the accretion of calcium carbonate increased approximately one millimeter per year (about four inches every century) and constricted the channel of the Pont du Gard by more than a third of its width. This limestone encrustation (sinter, from the German), which had to be periodically chipped away, suggests that deposits of calcium carbonate in pipes and aqueducts protected against corrosion and insulated against the introduction of lead into the water they conveyed. Too, with no taps to shut off, water flowed continuously and so would not have been in prolonged contact with the metal. And, in any event, most water brought to Rome by its aqueducts was used to supply the public baths.
Rather than encrusted lead pipes, the probable cause of chronic lead poisoning (plumbism or "saturnism" because its symptoms seemed indicative of the god's melancholic and sullen character) was the consumption of defrutum and sapa. The elder Cato, Columella, and Pliny all describe how unfermented grape juice (mustum, must) was boiled to concentrate its natural sugars. "A product of art, not of nature," the must was reduced to one half (defrutum) or even one third its volume (sapa) (Pliny, XIV.80), although the terms are not always consistent. Columella identifies defrutum as "must of the sweetest possible flavour" that has been boiled down to a third of its volume (XXI.1). Isidore of Seville, writing in the seventh century AD, says that it is sapa that has been reduced by a third and imagines that defrutum was so called because it has been cheated or defrauded (defrudare) (Etymologies, XX.3.15). Varro reverses Pliny's proportions altogether (quoted in Nonius Marcellus, De Conpendiosa Doctrina, XVIII.551M).
The thickened syrup was used to sweeten and preserve wine and fruit that otherwise was sour or would spoil. Cato recommends that quinces and pears be preserved in boiled must (On Agriculture, VII.3) as does Varro (On Agriculture, I.59.3). Columella insists that defrutum always be boiled with quinces or some other flavoring (XII.20.2). Apicius offers directions for preserving quinces in defrutum and honey (De Re Coquinaria, I.21) and added the rich syrup to almost a fifth of his sauces to enhance the color and flavor of almost every dish. (That color was added indicates that red, rather than white, wine was used in the reduction.)
Defrutum and sapa were dangerous not in themselves but in their preparation. In De Agricultura, the earliest example of Latin prose (c.160 BC), Cato gives directions for reducing must in "a copper or lead vessel" over a slow fire, "stirring constantly to prevent scorching; continue the boiling, until you have boiled off a half" (CVII). Writing in the first century AD, Columella elaborates on the process.
"Some people put the must in leaden vessels and by boiling reduce it by a quarter, others by a third. There is no doubt that anyone who boiled it down to one-half would be likely to make a better thick form of must and therefore more profitable for use....But, before the must is poured into the boiling-vessels, it will be well that those which are made of lead should be coated inside with good oil and be well-rubbed, and that then the must should be put in....The vessels themselves in which the thickened and boiled-down must is boiled should be of lead rather than of brass; for, in the boiling, brazen vessels throw off copper rust, and spoil the flavour of the preservative" (XII.19.1, 19.6, 20.1).
Pliny, too, recommends that the must be prepared in lead vessels.
"Also boiled-down must and must of new wine should be boiled when there is no moon, which means at the conjunction of that planet, and not on any other day; and moreover leaden and not copper jars should be used, and some walnuts should be thrown into the liquor, for those are said to absorb the smoke" (XIV.136).
It would seem therefore that must was boiled in lead cauldrons. But Scarborough is reluctant to weaken his case, insisting that "one needs to read these texts carefully which mention a 'preference' for lead over bronze to realize that the Romans most often used bronze cauldrons (copper and tin in alloy), not those of lead" and that the short boiling time would not have contaminated the juice in any event. But copper and bronze are suspect as well. Not only, says Pliny, was the best bronze alloyed with 10% lead and tin (XXXIV.95) but "When copper vessels are coated with stagnum [a lead alloy], the contents have a more agreeable taste and the formation of destructive verdigris is prevented" (XXXIV.160).
The verdigris about which Pliny complains is copper acetate, a bitter salt first described by Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, in De Re Metallica (IX), that is formed when acetic acid (the component that gives vinegar its sour taste and pungent smell) reacts with copper oxide. Commercially, it was manufactured by exposing copper plates to strong vinegar or the soured grape skins and lees of wine dregs (Dioscorides, Materia Medica, V.91). Acetic acid also reacts with lead oxide (litharge) to create another metallic salt: lead acetate or sugar of lead. Although as sweet as sugar (which was unknown to the Romans), it actually added very little to the sweetness of the defrutum, which derived from the concentrated glucose and fructose of the grapes themselves. What it did import was an onerous burden of lead.
Eisinger found that must reduced in a lead-lined pot to one-third its volume contained approximately one gram of lead per liter. If, as Columella recommends (XII.20.3), one sextarius of defrutum was mixed with one amphora of wine, the resulting proportion would be one part in forty-eight or almost 21 milligrams of lead per liter (mg/L)—a burden of lead so high as to be scarcely credible. Just three deciliters, the equivalent of two five-ounce glasses, would contain almost 2100 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) and certainly induce symptoms of lead poisoning, even more readily if one were to follow Cato's recommendation of one part in thirty (XXIV). That having been said, smaller vessels have a larger surface area relative to their volume. The four-liter pot used by Patterson et al. to produce sapa of the same concentration (1000 ppm) presumably would leach out more of the metal than the huge cauldron mentioned by Columella (XII.20.3), in which ninety amphorae (each holding about 26 liters) of must was reduced. This cauldron "should be coated inside with good oil and be well rubbed" (XII.19.6); Cato speaks of his own wine vats being treated with pitch (II.3), and one wonders if Patterson, following a recipe provided by Gilfillan, did the same.
Such levels of lead have significant physiological consequences. A single teaspoon of Columellan wine would have approximately 103 µg/dL of lead. As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is brain and kidney damage in adults with blood lead levels of 100 µg/dL; gastrointestinal symptoms such as colic with levels of approximately 60 µg/dL; anemia with levels of 50 to 80 µg/dL; neurological symptoms with levels of 40 to 60 µg/dL; depressed sperm count with levels of 40 to 50 µg/dL; and increased risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and impaired mental development with maternal blood lead levels of 10 to 15 µg/dL. The physiological insult to children is even greater. Since 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended intervention in children five years or younger when the level of lead in the blood is above 5 µg/dL and even may lower that figure to 3.5 µg/dL.
Nriagu estimates the aristocracy of Rome to have consumed two liters of wine a day or almost three bottles (which would seem to make alcoholism more suspect than lead poisoning) and the resulting lead intake to have averaged 180 µg daily. He further estimates the total amount of lead absorbed from all sources to be 250 µg per day and lead concentration in the blood to be 50 µg/dL, at least for the gluttonous and bibulous (as he phrases it) and those with an appetite for adulterated wines and sweetened dainties—who he presumes most Roman emperors to have been.
In fact, there is no way to quantify what Roman aristocrats actually did eat or drink, nor to determine the varying relationship between ingested lead and blood lead levels. If Nriagu's assumptions are correct, his contention that "a large number of Roman aristocrats ingested more than enough lead with their foods and drinks each day to put them at risk for lead poisoning" would be as well. But often, to take one example, they are not.
During the vintage, says Cato, inferior grapes were set aside, to be saved "for the sharp wine for the hands to drink, when the time comes" (XXIII.2), which were the three months following the vintage (LVII). Issued instead of wine in winter, this "after-wine" or lora was made from grape skins and pulp mixed with water and pressed a second time, its sharp bitterness so called because it "tastes of the knife" (Varro, I.54.3; cf. Pliny, XIV.86, who felt that what was extracted from lees and grape skins soaked in water "cannot rightly be styled wines" ). In calculating the ration of wine for his workers (familiae, as they were part of the family household), Cato provides the only contemporary figures for wine consumption which, for the remaining three quarters of the year, varied seasonally from one, two, or three heminae per day. An additional three-and-a-half congii (another forty-two heminae) were issued to celebrate the Saturnalia and Compitalia. In total, seven amphorae of wine were allotted during these nine months (LVII), almost two-and-a-half heminae or about 663 ml. daily. For the other three months of the year, an indeterminate amount of watery lora was drunk. In considering the same passage, Nriagu is not so nuanced and says simply that Cato recommends "about 750 ml of the afterwine" per day.
It should be remembered, too, that Romans diluted their wine. Unmixed wine (merum) was considered the drink of provincials, barbarians, and drunkards. Mixed, the proportion of water and wine varied, sometimes dictated by a magister bibendi chosen by lot at a comissatio (Horace, Odes, I.4.18, II.7.25) or determined by the guests themselves, drinking from cups large or small "not bound by crazy laws" (Horace, Satires, II.6.69). Even then, a magistra was in attendance: the restraint of culpa itself and not being thought culpable of drinking to excess (Satires, II.2.123).
Athenaeus, a Greek rhetorician who flourished in the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, writes of the matter in detail. In the Deipnosophistae, when the learned conversation of the symposiasts eventually turns to the mixing of wine, a proverb was recalled: "Drink either five or three or at least not four" (X.80). It was a saying that earlier had piqued the interest of Plutarch, who explains that one should drink either five or three portions of wine to water but not four—five being three cups of water mixed with two of wine and three, two cups mixed with one. Four, three cups of water to one of wine, "a mixture sober and weak enough" was not recommended. Rather, the most harmonious of proportion was two to three, "stilling and appeasing all proud and disordered passions within the heart, and inducing instead of them a peaceable calm and tranquility" (Table Talk, III.9).
There were other ratios of course. Horace cautions that those who revere the three Graces should mix no more than one part of wine with three of water—but for the poet who celebrates the nine Muses, the ratio should be inverted. (Odes, III.19). And Martial teases a companion who repeatedly drank water with his wine and the wine only sparingly, joking that he must be staying sober so to enjoy an amorous evening (Epigrams, I.106). A pretentious equestrian such as Sextilianus, on the other hand, is lampooned for drinking his wine unmixed, which made the warm water that would have heated it unnecessary (I.11). Martial chides that, if he is to drink so much at public festivals (more than his allotment of tokens), at least it should not be Opimius but a cheaper wine (I.26). A celebrated vintage of 121 BC, Opimius was by then almost two hundred years old—and, ironically, intolerably bitter and impossible to drink without being mixed with water (Pliny, XIV.55). Of the two liters of wine that Nriagu estimates aristocrats to have been drunk every day, were they mixed with two parts of water (Plutarch's favored portion), only two-thirds of a liter (four-and-a-half glasses) would have been undiluted wine.
Almost twenty years earlier, Gilfillan had insisted (his "novel theory" restating a notion first proposed in German by Kobert in 1909) that "lead poisoning is to be reckoned the major influence in the ruin of the Roman culture, progressiveness, and genius," threatening the cognition and fertility of the nobility. But that proposition, too, was debunked by Needleman and Needleman, who demonstrated that the decline of the Roman aristocracy could as easily be explained by the simple desire not to marry or to rear few or no children. In 18 BC and AD 9, Augustus had sought to promote marriage and encourage procreation. "And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state" (Tacitus, Annals, III.25). In a review of the life span of emperors and aristocrats, Scheidel dismisses any impact of lead ingestion on fertility. "Nor is there any need to suspect that the incidence of marital sterility in the Roman ruling class might have been much higher than in other groups, times, and places." Drasch found that the average lead burden in Rome was not significantly higher than in the legionary camp and provincial capital at Augsburg in Bavaria. In Britain, the skeletal lead burden was even higher than in Rome. Still, Nriagu insists that "one of the principle, probable causes of the internal weaknesses" of the Roman empire was lead poisoning of the aristocracy.
Certainly, Romans knew lead to be dangerous, even if they did not associate it with their lead cooking vessels or the preparation of sapa. Pliny speaks of the "noxious and deadly vapour" (sulfur dioxide) of the lead furnace (XXXIV.167; there was, in fact, a four-fold increase in atmospheric Pb pollution during the Greco-Roman period); red lead (minium) (XXXIII.124) and white lead (ceruse) (XXXIV.176) as poisonous, even though both were used as a medicine and cosmetic; and the power of sapa (and onion) to induce an abortion (XXIII.30). Dioscorides cautions against taking white lead internally, as it is deadly (V.103). Soranus recommends that the mouth of the uterus be smeared with white lead to prevent conception (Gynecology, I.19.61). Galen (On Antidotes, XIV.144) and Celsus (V.27.12b) both provide an antidote for poisoning by white lead, and Vitruvius remarks on the pernicious effects of water found near lead mines and its effect on the body (VIII.3.5, 6.11).
The earliest description of acute lead poisoning (mid-second century BC) is given in the Alexipharmaca of Nicander, who speaks of "gleaming, deadly white lead whose fresh colour is like milk which foams all over" (II.74ff). The poet describes a frothing mouth, asperity of the tongue, and dry throat, together with dry retching, chills, delusions, and overwhelming fatigue. But if lead poisoning had been endemic, it presumably would have been remarked upon at the time. And yet there is no mention of the fact until early in the seventh century AD, when Paul of Aegina, a Byzantine physician, described chronic lead poisoning (although he does not associate its symptoms with the disease). "I am of the opinion that the colic affection which now prevails is occasioned by such humours; the disease having taken its rise in the country of Italy, but raging also in many other regions of the Roman empire, like a pestilential contagion, which in many cases terminates in epilepsy, but in others in paralysis of the extremities, while the sensibility of them is preserved, and sometimes both these afflictions attacking together" (III.64).
Defrutum was only one of several remedies to sweeten or preserve potentially sour wine. Pitch, resin, ash, and sea water also were added (Pliny, XIV.124ff), as well as marble dust (Cato, XXIII.3); and aromatic spices such as myrrh, cinnamon, balsam, and saffron added to the defrutum (Columella, XII.20.5). Such was the use of additives that Martial accuses a wine merchant of Marseilles of shipping poisonous and overpriced wines to his friends and, indeed, being reluctant to visit Rome for fear of having to drink them himself (X.36). And Pliny complains that "genuine, unadulterated wine is not to be had now, not even by the nobility" (XXIII.1), ruefully remarking "So many poisons are employed to force wine to suit our taste—and we are surprised that it is not wholesome!" (XIV.130). Indeed, "So low has our commercial honesty sank that only the names of vintages are sold, the wines being adulterated as soon as they are poured into the vats. Accordingly, strange though it may seem, the more common the wine is today, the freer it is from impurities" (XXIII.34).
Columella regards "as the best wine any kind which can keep without any preservative, nor should anything at all be mixed with it by which its natural savour would be obscured; for that wine is most excellent which has given pleasure by its own natural quality" (XII.19.2). Further, "care must be taken that the flavour of the preservative is not noticeable, for that drives away the purchaser" (XII.20.7). Writing several decades later in the first century AD, Dioscorides says much the same thing. "Generally, all unmixed and simple wine (hard by nature) is warming, easily digested and good for the stomach. It encourages the appetite, is nourishing, induces sleep, and causes a good colour" (V.11). Those with sapa, however, "fill the head causing drunkenness." One should drink moderately and (because alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates the body) drink water both before and afterwards, "for it brings some help in avoiding illness owing to drunkenness."
The best tasting wine, therefore, was unadulterated and presumably the wine drunk by the nobility, who supposedly were most at risk for lead poisoning. More than wine or water transported through lead pipes, it was the dainties and elaborate sauces prepared with defrutum by gourmands such as Apicius that were the primary source of ingested lead by the Roman aristocracy.
A teacher of Epictetus and "a man devoted to the study of philosophy and in particular to the Stoic doctrine" (Tacitus, Histories, III.81), Musonius Rufus was compared by Origen to Socrates himself as a model of the excellent life (Against Celsus, III.66). He may have nearly died while imprisoned by Nero (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, IV.35), who later exiled Musonius to a desolate island in the Cyclades because of his prominence and influence in "the precepts of philosophy" (Tacitus, Annals, XV.71). When Vespasian expelled all the other philosophers from the city in about AD 71 (Dio, Roman History, LXV.13), Musonius alone was exempted, only later to be banished to Syria, where he was esteemed by Pliny the Younger, who was serving there (Letters, XXXI). Recalled to Rome by Titus in AD 79 (Jerome, Chronica, 214th Olympiad), he died sometime before AD 102.
Musonius is cited by Nriagu in a quotation from Apician Morsels; or, Tales of the Table, Kitchen, and Larder, a farrago of gastronomical curiosities on a new and improved code of eatics; select epicurean precepts; nutritive maxims, reflections, anecdotes, &c." (to partially quote the subtitle) that was published in 1829 under the pseudonym of Dick Humelbergius Secundus (a whimsical allusion to a sixteenth-century editor of Apicius).
"That masters are less strong, less healthy, less able to endure labour than servants; countrymen more strong than those who are bred in the city, those that feed meanly than those who feed daintily; and that, generally, the latter live longer than the former. Nor are are there any other persons more troubled with gouts, dropsies, colics, and the like, than those who, condemning simple diet, live upon prepared dainties" (p. 39).
Although the passage is not referenced, it is from Musonius' lecture "On Food" (XVIIIB), summarized in Greek by one of his students. In making his argument, Nriagu takes the last sentence at face value. But it is missing in more authoritative translations.
"Quite the contrary, people who eat the cheapest food are the strongest. Indeed you may notice that slaves are usually stronger than their masters, country men than city men, the poor than the rich, better able to do hard work, less fatigued by their labor, less frequently ill, enduring more cheerfully cold, heat, lack of sleep, and every such hardship." (trans. Lutz, 1947)
"Indeed, those who eat the least expensive foods are the strongest. Thus, slaves are generally stronger than their masters, country folk are stronger than city folk, and the poor are stronger than the rich. Furthermore, those who eat inexpensive food can work harder, are less fatigued by working, and are sick less often those those who eat expensive food. Also, they are better able to tolerate cold, heat, lack of sleep, and so forth." (trans. King, 2010)
Nriagu also understands Musonius to be "an eyewitness," which in his book is emended to read "an actual eyewitness account," and "masters" to be the "aristocrats...of his time"—assumptions that simply are not supported by the actual quotation. They are confounded even more by someone such as Cato, a staunch defender of republican virtue and rustic austerity who would not have considered himself an aristocrat. As pater familias, he was absolute master of his household family (the word, in fact, is translated as "master" in On Agriculture, II.1), but then, having worked next to his servants, he "sat down with them to eat of the same bread and drink of the same wine" (Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, III.2).
"What I tell you three times is true."
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (I.8)
One reads that Hippocrates (died c. 370 BC) was the first to describe lead colic in a metal worker. Although a primary source almost never is provided, the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online does say, in its entry on Occupational Disease: The Preindustrial Era, that "The first recorded observation of an occupational disease may be a case of severe lead colic suffered by a worker who extracted metals. It is described in the third book of Epidemics, attributed to Hippocrates."
In fact, the reference is from Epidemics IV.25, where there is brief mention of a man "from the mines" who, among his other symptoms, was pale. And, indeed, miners often were described as pallidus. Vitruvius remarks on the pallid color of lead workers. Lucan (Pharsalia, IV.298), Silius Italicus (Punica, I.233), and Statius (Silvae, IV.7.15) all comment, however, on the pallor of gold miners, especially those from Asturias in northern Spain, the mining operations which Pliny may have witnessed for himself (XXXIII.66ff). But it is facile to assume that, because Romans reported symptoms concomitant with lead poisoning, they necessarily were caused by lead—or, to phrase it another way, that if lead poisoning has certain symptoms, the same symptoms can be attributed to it—as Waldron comments in his review of Nriagu. While Hippocrates may have known about lead poisoning, Waldron cautions that he "did not describe it in any of the books which have come down to us."
An etymological note: "mustard" derives from must, as the juice was used to form a paste of ground mustard seeds. And merum (from merus, "undiluted") is the root of the archaic "mere," meaning "pure" (as in Shakespeare's "mere madness" or C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity), as opposed to its modern meaning of "nothing more than" (as in a "mere child").
A note on citations may be in order, as well, in regard to the numerous references to Pliny, whose Natural History is most readily available in a nineteenth-century translation by Bostcock. There "black lead" is referenced as Book XXXIV, Chapter 49. In the original Latin, the chapter is further divided into sections, XXXIV.xlix.164 and XXXIV.xlix.165. Other chapters in the book (xix, for example) comprise more than forty sections. To direct the reader more readily to a specific passage, only the book and section usually are cited in the literature—but not the chapter (which is redundant). This convention has been followed here. But it means that those who want to read more will be obliged to go to the Latin (online at LacusCurtius), discover the chapter number of the section, and then return to Bostcock.
"But the Goths kept pressing vigorously upon them, shooting many missiles at the battlements, and they were already about to set their ladders against the wall, having practically surrounded those who were fighting from the tomb; for whenever the Goths advanced they always got in the rear of the Romans on both flanks; and for a short time consternation fell upon the Romans, who knew not what means of defence they should employ to save themselves, but afterwards by common agreement they broke in pieces the most of the statues, which were very large, and taking up great numbers of stones thus secured, threw them with both hands down upon the heads of the enemy, who gave way before this shower of missiles."
Procopius, The Gothic War (V.22)
Sometime after 1624, when Urban VIII began to fortify Castel Sant'Angelo (Hadrian's Tomb), stripping the ancient bronze trusses from the portico of the Pantheon to provide metal for the forging of cannons, the Barberini Faun (pictured above) was discovered in the defensive ditch at the foot of the castle. It is pleasing to think that it may have been one of the statues thrown from the wall during the siege of Rome by the Goths in AD 537. Or, since it once was used as a fountain, it may have adorned a garden there. Although called a faun, the ivy wreath garlanding the head (as well as the horse tail at the base of the spine) identify the drunken figure as a satyr and companion of Dionysus. Here, the exhausted reveler has collapsed in fitful repose on a rock over which a leopard skin, another attribute of the god, has been thrown. By 1627, the statue was installed in the Palazzo Barberini, named for the cardinal who owned it, the nephew of Urban VIII—who issued a papal bull declaring that it was to remain an inalienable possession of the Barberini family.
Nevertheless, in 1799 the statue was sold for 4,000 scudi to Vincenzo Pacetti, a sculptor and art dealer. In anticipation of reselling his acquisition, the missing right leg, which earlier had been constructed in plaster, was restored in marble—now splayed provocatively away from the body. (The figure had assumed its seated posture in 1679, when the leg was placed in a more upright position.) But ownership was contested and the statue again was appropriated by the family, who in 1814 sold it to Ludwig I of Bavaria for twice what the unrecompensed Pacettti had paid. Cheated of his possession, he contrived to forestall export from Rome, where the statue languished for six more years until, after much litigation and political machinations, it finally was transported to Munich and installed in the Glyptothek, then being constructed to house the collection of the king, who had a room designed specifically for his prize. The Faun, a masterpiece of Hellenistic art dating to about 220 BC, was placed there in 1827 to await the completion of the museum three years later, when it was opened to the public.
References: "Saturnine Gout Among Roman Aristocrats: Did Lead Poisoning Contribute to the Fall of the Empire?" (1983) by Jerome O. Nriagu, New England Journal of Medicine, 308, 660-663; Lead and Lead Poisoning in Antiquity (1983) by Jerome O. Nriagu; "Occupational Exposure to Lead in Ancient Times" (1983) by Jerome O. Nriagu, The Science of the Total Environment, 31(2), 105-116; "The Myth of Lead Poisoning Among the Romans: An Essay Review" (1984) by John Scarborough, Journal of the History of Medicine, 39, 469-475; "Lead and Lead Poisoning in Antiquity" (1985) reviewed by H. A. Waldron, Medical History, 29(1), 107-108; "Lead Poisoning and the Fall of Rome" (1965) by S. C. Gilfillan, Journal of Occupational Medicine, 7, 53-60; "Old Wine in Lead Bottles: Nriagu on the Fall of Rome" (1984) by C. R. Phillips, Classical World, 78, 29-33; "Lead Poisoning and the Decline of the Roman Aristocracy" (1985) by Lionel and Diane Needleman, Classical Views, 4(1), 63-94; "Lead and Wine: Eberhard Gockel and the Colica Pictonum" (1982) by Josef Eisinger, Medical History, 26, 279-302; "Lead in Ancient Human Bones and Its Relevance to Historical Developments of Social Problems with Lead" (1987) by C. C. Patterson, H. Shirahata, and J. E. Ericson, Science of the Total Environment, 61, 167-200; "Lead Poisoning in the Ancient World" (1973) by H. A. Waldron, Medical History, 17, 391-399; "Vitruvius, Lead Pipes and Lead Poisoning" (1981) by A. Treavor Hodge, American Journal of Archaeology, 85, 486-491; Lead Compounds: Hazard Summary (1992, revised 2000) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Technology Transfer Network, Air Toxics Website; "Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millennia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations" (1994) by Sungmin Hong, Jean-Pierre Candelone, Clair C. Patterson, and Claude F. Boutron, Science, 265, 1841-1843; "Hippocrates and Lead" (1973) by H. A. Waldron, in The Lancet, 2(7829), 626; "Emperors, Aristocrats, and the Grim Reaper: Towards a Demographic Profile of the Roman Elite" (1999) by Walter Scheidel, The Classical Quarterly, 49(1), 254-281; Roman Aqueducts & Water Supply (2002) by A. Trevor Hodge; "'Gleaming, white and deadly': Using Lead to Track Human Exposure and Geographic Origins in the Roman Period in Britain" (2010) by Janet Montgomery, Jane Evans, Simon Chenery, Vanessa Pashley, and Kristina Killgrove, Journal of Roman Archaeology, (Suppl. 78: Roman Diasporas), 199-226; "Lead Poisoning in Ancient Rome" (2006) by F. P. Retief and L. Cilliers, Acta Theologica, 26(2), Suppl. 7, 147-164; "Lead Burden in Prehistorical, Historical and Modern Human Bodies" (1982) by Gustave A. Drasch, The Science of the Total Environment, 24(3), 199-231; "Exposure to Lead in Ancient Populations" (1979) by Tony Waldron and Calvin Wells, Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 1(2), 102-115; "A Perspective of Lead Poisoning in Antiquity and the Present" (1984) by D. E. Woolley, Neurotoxicology, 5(3), 353-361; "Lead Poisoning and the Fall of Rome" by Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post, February 17, 2016; "Sugar of Lead" (2015) by Machelle M. Francl, The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets; "Musonius Rufus, the Roman Socrates" (1947) by Cora E. Lutz, Yale Classical Studies, 10, 3-147; Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings (2010) translated by Cynthia King; Glyptothek, Munich: Masterpieces of Greek and Roman Sculpture (1994) by Raimund Wünsche (museum catalog); Taste and the Antique (1981) by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny.
Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture (2001) edited by Ingrid D. Rowland and Thomas Noble Howe; The Architecture of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (1826) translated by Joseph Gwilt; Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella: On Agriculture (1954) translated by E. S. Forster and Edward H. Heffner (Loeb Classical Library); Marcus Porcius Cato: On Agriculture and Marcus Terentius Varro: On Agriculture (1935) translated by William Davis Hooper, revised by Harrison Boyd Ash; Pliny: Natural History (1945) translated by H. Rackham (Loeb Classical Library); Frontius: Stratagems, Aqueducts (1925) translated by Charles E. Bennett (Loeb Classical Library); The Seven Books of Paulus Aegineta (1844) translated by Francis Adams; Celsus: On Medicine (1938) translated by W. G. Spencer (Loeb Classical Library); Apicius: De Re Coquinaria (1936/1977) translated by Joseph Vehling (Dover Books); Soranus' Gynecology (1956) translated by Owsei Temkin; Procopius: The Gothic War (1919) translated by H. B. Dewing (Loeb Classical Library); Dioscorides Pedanius of Anazarbus: De Materia Medica (2005) translated by Lily Y. Beck; Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome (1959) translated by Michael Grant (Penguin Classics) Hippocrates: Epidemics (Vol. VII) (1994) translated by Wesley D. Smith (Loeb Classical Library); Horace: Satires, Epistles, Art of Poetry (1926) translated by H. Rushton Fairclough (Loeb Classical Library); Plutarch: Moralia (1874) edited by William W. Goodwin; Nonii Marcelli: De Conpendiosa Doctrina (Vol. III) (1903) edited by Wallace M. Lindsay.
See also Lead and the Roman Harbor of Portus.
Return to Top of Page