n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Marcus Aurelius se siektegeskiedenis en dood : was hy 'n opiumverslaafde?

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Marcus Aurelius (121-180) was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors of the Roman Empire. He proved a just and enlightened ruler but had to spend the last twelve years of his reign (168-180) on the Empire's north-eastern borders in warfare against the invading tribes. Here he wrote his famous 'Meditations'. A serious epidemic disease (probably small pox) which struck Rome in 166/7 persisted intermittently for more than 20 years. Chronic illness (chest and abdominal complaints) troubled Marcus since childhood, resulting in him never being physically strong. His best-known physician, Galen, treated him inter alia with a daily dose of theriac (claimed to be a universal antidote against poisoning, but also used as a general purpose tonic). Theriac comprised approximately 70 ingredients of which one was poppy-extract (containing opium). Authors have claimed that Marcus was opium addicted and that this explained his remarkable tolerance of enemies and other offending individuals (including his wife's probable infidelity). We suggest that his chronic life-long illness of chest and abdomen was possibly tuberculosis, and that he probably eventually died of small pox. We believe that the amount of opium present in his daily dose of theriac was too small to have caused opium addiction.

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