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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Phenomenon of Suicide in the Roman Period

The phenomenon of suicide in antiquity and in the Roman period in particular is a complex subject with many aspects that need to be studied. In most cases only the motive that drives a person to commit suicide is known, while his childhood. Experiences and mental balance are latent. The choice of method by which the individual intentionally takes his own life, such as starvation, setting himself on fire, taking poison or hanging himself, has a specific symbolism and a great importance. The motives driving a person to commit suicide, such as mania, physical pain, dedication, disgrace and others, must be approached through the way of thinking of those living in the Roman age, which is also relevant to their social up bringing. The Roman laws were referring only to specific cases of suicide, such as the suicide of soldiers, while the jurists of the period laid particular stress on such cases as the suicide of the defendant who would take his own life during his trial. Finally, we must note that there were no social or ethical limitations in representing suicide either in visual arts or theatrical plays, drama and comedy. Some of the surviving works of art, such as the wall painting of Pyramus and Thisbe or the sculpture of the Gaul who turns his sword to himself after having killed his wife, give us an adequate idea of how the suicidal act was represented.