Oddest Ways to Die: Ancient Times IV

Publius Licinius Valerianus, who was commonly referred to as Valerian or Valerian the Elder, was emperor of Rome from 253 to 260. In history, he was a significant ruler for the simple fact that he was the only emperor of his time to have been taken captive. What happened to Valerian and his death is something that many would call gruesome and odd.

Valerian , Death by Flaying

The Persian king Shapur I captured the ruler following the Battle of Edessa. Because of this act, the empire became unstable.

When Valerian first became emperor in 253, his reign was met with numerous difficulties. His ties to Europe were already poor and from the very start, they continued to worsen. It wasn’t long before the West started to succumb to disorder. In the East, Shapur I had already taken hold of Armenia and Antioch had also fallen to others. The issues that plagued the empire were separated into two separate sets of problems that Valerian shared with his son Gallienus. The two went to the task of remedying some of the issues. Gallienus took over the West, while Valerian concentrated on the Persian threat in the East.

Lactantius, who has served as an early Christian source, has stated that even before Valerian died, his captors inflicted great insults on the ruler. At one point, the emperor was used as a human footstool when Shapur went to mount his horse. It is said that after some time had passed, Valerian offered his captors a large ransom for his release. Shapur responded by killing the emperor. Various accounts exist as to how his death was carried out.

Some say that Valerian was forced to consume molten gold, while others claim that he was actually killed by being flayed alive and stuffed with straw like a trophy. His preserved body was placed in the main portion of the Persian temple. It is also said that later on after the Persians had defeated Rome once again that the skin was returned to his country so that it could be cremated and given a burial.

Hypatia of Alexandria , Death by Seashells

Women were not immune to the odd punishments and deaths of ancient times. In the case of Hypatia of Alexandria, the Greek mathematician and pagan philosopher was killed by a mob full of Christians who ripped her skin apart with sharp seashells, such as clams, oysters and abalones. Others state that tiles or shards of pottery were used in her murder. The rest of the remains of Hypatia’s body were burned.

Why was such a frenzy created in killing Hypatia?

Hypatia is known as the first woman to gain recognition in the field of mathematics. She also taught philosophy and astronomy. She called Roman Egypt her home and the people of her region turned on her because they believed she was at the root of causing religious turmoil. The death of Hypatia was seen as some as an example of conflict that existed between religion and scientific questioning during her time. Others believe her murder was a casualty of getting mixed up in a struggle of politics. Her death was caused more by local politics than it did with scientific theories.