There is something about Roman history that fascinates me. The birthplace of western civilization, culture and government coupled with absolute brutality and superstition.

Source: The Roman empress who used forensic science to identify her rival’s head

rome_agrippina_minorIt’s amazing that the first record of what we would call “forensic dentistry” came from a vindictive woman wanting to make sure that a rival was really and truly dead when presented with the decaying severed head as proof.

When Emperor Claudius was considering who to pick to be his fourth wife, the two most eligible women (politically speaking) were Lollia Paulina and Julia Agrippina (known as Agrippina the Younger). Paulina was the daughter of a senator, had been married to the Emperor Caligula for six months (divorced her because he was bored with her) and her son from her first husband was prefect of Macedonia and a senator. Agrippina was Caligula’s sister and the mother of future Emperor Nero.

When Claudius chose Agrippina in order to unite the two familial houses (Julians and Claudians) Agrippina started a campaign to harassment against Paulina. Agrippina had her declared a sorceress and put on trial as a “national danger”. Her money and property was stripped and Paulina was banished from Italy.

lollia_paulinaBut that was not enough for Agrippina. She had Paulina ordered to commit suicide, sending a centurion to see that the order was carried out. It is unknown how far away Paulina was banished to, but when the centurion returned with a severed head as proof, Agrippina couldn’t be sure her rival was dead. It is theorized that decay had bloated and twisted the features beyond recognition.

Knowing that Paulina had unique and memorable teeth, she opened the corpse’s mouth herself and was satisfied that Lollia Paulina was indeed dead because the teeth matched. Thus, the first recorded use of teeth as an identifier after death occurred.

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