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by Archaeology Newsroom

Suicide in Byzantium

The literary evidence on suicide in Byzantium is rather limited and for this reason the subject has not been investigated as yet. The incidents of voluntary death from the fourth century to the Justinian period involve almost exclusively pagans, and cases that perpetuate a military tradition, according to which a defeated leader had no other choice but to kill himself, lest suffered disgrace and humiliation in the hands of the victor. In later periods such incidents were probably held as taboo and might have been suppressed. Judicial records attest to the fact that suicidal incidents of women under extreme stress as well as of desperate individuals who were financially ruined were not uncommon. The notion of mercy killing seems unknown in the Christian era and suicide cases resulting from madness or melancholy are hardly mentioned in medical hand-books of the period. Hanging is the most common suicidal method, followed by stabbing or drowing-to cite one or two other ways. The slicing of veins appears only once, in the case of the iconoclast Patriarch Ioannes Grammatikos, to be proved a fake suicide after all. The issue of suicide was not debated in philological discussions in Byzantium nor did it provoke the writing of thorough treatises. The last contribution in this topic is a series of commentaries on Prorphyry’s Isagoge and on Plotinus’ views on death as they were expounded in sixth-century Alexandria. The act of suicide was associated with superstitious beliefs, dispersed in dreams books and astrological texts such as Artemidoros’ Oneirokritikon and Ioannis Kamateros’ dream book, respectively. Finally, the com-mon people believed that the soul of the biothanatos would be transformed into a demon.