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Forensic Dentistry In Miriam's Time

The word forensics, the techniques used to detect the commission of a crime, is related to the word “forum” because the Romans tried their cases in the public square. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how a Roman defense attorney used evidence from blood spatters to clear his client of a murder charge. In this blog post, I will offer proof that at least some Romans knew to use dental characteristics to confirm a victim’s identity.

With an individual’s unique pattern of tooth decay and extractions, teeth were a dependable means of identification even thousands of years ago. And the Romans did indeed have bad teeth in part because of their love of sweets, honey in particular. In The Deadliest Lie, Miriam notices that even when the Canopic Way is deserted, there are still “heat-drugged vendors hawking parasols and honey-sweetened water inside sharp-edged slivers of shade.” And in that same story, we come to know that she herself likely experienced dental pain. When realizing that someone betrayed her, she tells us that “the thought throbbed like a toothache.”

Perhaps the most famous case involved Agrippina. With hopes of marrying Claudius, she had her rival, Lollia Paulina, killed. To confirm that Paulina was dead, she asked for the head and inspected the teeth herself. Agrippina must have been satisfied because she did not have anyone else murdered for a full five years.

So, instead of reaching for a sweet snack, reach for a Miriam bat Isaac mystery. Check out The Deadliest Lie and the four other stand-alone stories by clicking here.


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