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Perseus – king who died of lack of sleep

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Coin of Macedonian Perseus
Coin of Macedonian Perseus

Perseus of the Antigonid dynasty was the Macedonian king who was defeated in the Third Macedonian War (172-168 BCE) and lost power. After defeat, he fled to the island of Samothrace, where he took refuge in a temple. However, the victorious Roman commander – consul Lucius Emilius Paulus Macedonian – captured him and led in triumph.

As is customary, a defeated leader who has been led in triumph should die. However, the superstitious Romans still had in mind the fact that the former king was captured in the tabernacle of the gods, and thus he was protected. The Romans could not kill him because they would risk their wrath.

Perseus was thrown into the dungeons because the Romans did not know how they could kill him in a way that did not violate his corporeality. After two years, the Romans came to the conclusion that there was a way to get rid of the former king of Macedonia. It was decided that Perseus would die of lack of sleep – the guards guarding him were to wake him as soon as the king began to fall asleep. As it turned out, the method was effective, because Perseus died a few weeks later1.

  1. Interestingly, the other fate of the king was presented by Titus Livius. Namely, Perseus was to live to the end of his days in good conditions in Alba Fucens, in central Italy (Ab Urbe condita, XLV, 42).
  • Plutarch from Cheronea, De superstitione, 1; Aemilius, XXXVII

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