Monday, March 21, 2005

Double Jeopardy

Murder by knife has been one of the most common methods throughout history. A gruesome “twist,” as it were, is the occasional murder by poisoned blade.

Several incidents of it recently came to light during my research of Arab history. A Persian slave killed Umar, the second Islamic caliph, with a poisoned dagger in 644 A.D. Seventeen years later, the caliph Ali was slain with a poisoned saber.

In 1389, an Ottoman army under Sultan Murad I subdued Serbia at the Battle of Kosovo. Their victory was costly. In the heat of conflict, a Serbian noble entered the invaders’ encampment, feigning to defect to their cause. He finessed his way into the very presence of Murad and delivered a fatal stroke with a poisoned dagger. Bayazid I, Murad’s son, led the infuriated Ottomans on to triumph.

We can imagine infliction of an injury by poisoned dagger to be comparable to snakebite. The attacker need not strike deeply, but quickly. A notable difference is that the purveyor of the human deed has to be extraordinarily careful handling the weapon – something vipers don’t worry about.


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