Throughout history, there have been devastating and innovative ways for people to assassinate their enemies. Most of which have been used for a long period of time and have caused societies to live in a scared state because of the worrisome nature of a “subtle murder”.
Another commonality throughout history is the usage of jewelry. Although this might seem hard to believe today, jewelry was once heavily relied on as something more than aesthetic appeal. Examples such as eliminating evil spirits, creating positive energy, and for assassination purposes.
During the Middle Ages and throughout the 16th century, one of the most common ways of assassination was with a poison ring. A ring that is exactly what a person might expect it to be; a ring with a secret compartment of poison.
The functionality of these rings varied depending on the timeframe, what they were made out of, when they were first used, when they were most commonly used, and much more.
What is it?
As noted, a poison ring is a ring that often had a secret compartment in it with poison. The poison was most commonly used as a way to pour poison into someone’s dink, and upon consumption, the person would be killed or knocked unconscious. Other than that, the poison would be kept as a way for someone on the run from the law to commit suicide in an emergency situation. Sort of like they’d rather be dead than deal with the punishment of their actions.
The type of poison varied depending on the intention of the person with the ring on. If they were instructed to or had the intention of killing a specific person, then the poison would be more deadly. If they were instructed to kidnap or take a person for questioning or torture, then the poison would only be strong enough to knock the person unconscious.
Although not as common, in some cases, the ring itself had a form of poison directly on it. Meaning that the wearer of the ring is who was intended to be harmed. This was more commonly done as a way for the perpetrator to avoid any form of punishment. This is due to the fact that this method was often mistaken as suicide instead of a potential murder.
However, it was a lot more difficult to make the intended target “wear” a ring, than it is to sneakily pour something into their drink from a secret compartment. Thus, the reason why the other method was more common, despite the slightly higher possibility of the true intention being revealed. This is also why this method of a ring with poison directly on it is much rarer compared to a ring with a compartment of poison. These rings were also referred to as pillbox rings. Other than the difference in name, a pillbox ring served the exact same purpose.
What are they made out of?
The material of the actual ring is similar to what a normal ring is made out of. Material such as gold, silver, diamond, and several other types of materials were very common for jewelry throughout history.
As for the actual secret compartment, the larger the stone or top to it is, the larger the container can be to hold the poison. Depending on how much poison and what kind of poison affect the actual size of the stone or top to the ring is.
Rings built like this didn’t just hold poison. If they weren’t meant to hold poison, they were used to have a little bit of flesh, hair, an artifact, and other forms of materials that were close to the person wearing the ring.
They were essentially meant as a way for a person to “carry” something close and near to them. But they were also used as a way to assassinate or eliminate someone very easily. The poison itself can come in many different forms. It can come as a liquid, powder, or as a pill. All depending on the designated purpose of the poison such as the overall lethality.
During the most popular time for poison rings, rings, in general, were usually made out of copper-based alloys; material such as gold or silver. As noted, certain gems became popular at the same time because of the certain belief in each gem holding a different power. In simple terms, a ring of this type looks just like a regular ring. The only difference with them compared to normal rings is the secret compartment that can allow the ability to carry poison in them.
When were they first used?
As noted, these types of rings have been around for a long time. The earliest examples of these rings have been dated back to as early as ancient Asia and India. They became more common as the popularity of rings increased and different people throughout history realized the advantages of using one.
One of the most famous cases of a poison ring being used was by Lucrezia Borgia. Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI during the renaissance in Italy. Borgia utilized the rings as a way to eliminate her and her family’s enemies.
Although none of these claims are 100-percent proven, the Borgia family often threw parties that involved high-profile acts such as the murder and poisoning of others. Thus the reason why Lucrezia Borgia was often thought of as a person who would seduce and later poison her victims.
Other notable acts of this nature were done by the Carthaginian soldier Hannibal. In 183 B.C., Hannibal ingested poison from his own ring. Unlike Borgia, Hannibal did this intentionally to harm himself and not others. A prime example of this method was done by Marquis DE Condorcet. Condorcet was a mathematician and philosopher who had progressive beliefs during a time when progressive wasn’t the norm. His ideas were eventually used as the basis for the Age of Enlightenment.
Basically, in order to avoid punishment and the guillotine, Condorcet ingested poison from his ring and died from the incident. Since these types of rings have been around for such a long period of time, there are numerous examples of people using them for a variety of reasons. The most common being murder, suicide, and kidnapping.
When were they most commonly used?
Although these rings have been used throughout history, they raised to popularity during the middle ages in Europe and furthered their popularity during the 16th century of Europe. The middle ages began after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. This period is deemed as what lead to the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. However, with any period of future enlightenment, it comes with a period of resentment and evil acts.
Without sounding too ridiculous, desperate times called for desperate measures. For example, the breakup of empires, churches, the black plague, the seeking of power, societal classes, and much more lead to people wanting to come up with different ways of eliminating their enemies.
Thus, the reason why these types of rings began to be more popular throughout this time period. Since wine was one the most common beverages, people would either invite their designated victim over for wine or follow them and poison the beverage when they weren’t looking. The Assassin Creed series depicted acts like these throughout their video game franchise, and other than the fictional side of the video games, they weren’t far off on the reality of how people were assassinated sneakily back then.
After the middle ages, the rings were still used for similar methods. People who were against modern art-movements, wanted power, or for a plethora of other reasons demanded for the usage of these rings.
Are they still used today?
Today, these rings aren’t as common since relic looking rings aren’t entirely normal for people to wear. If someone of power sees someone with a large ring on, they’d more than likely question the person and what the ring is.
However, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been cases with these rings. It’s just nowhere near as common as they once were. A lot of people will buy a “poison ring” for aesthetic appeal, but they don’t serve the same purpose as they once were.
Since these rings use to be very common in Europe during the 5th to 16th century, in some places it’s considered rude if you pour wine a certain way with your ring showing. This actually dates back to a time when rings caused a worrisome nature of the intention behind them.
Poison rings were an important piece of jewelry for people to use at one time. Although they’re not as popular today, they’re still heavily looked at as the main cause of certain events throughout history.