How Honey Defeated Rome
In 67 BC the Roman general Pompey was at war with King Mithridates, ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus, located in Turkey along the Black Sea. Pompey was an experienced military leader famous for fighting and defeating pirates, barbarians, and other enemies of Rome. The force he commanded, the legions of the Roman Republic, where the toughest, most experienced, most disciplined, and best equipped soldiers in the known world.
King Mithridates knew that he was outnumbered and outgunned, but he had a plan that would take the Romans by surprise. The two armies met near Trabzon, and Pompey, immediately seeing his military advantage over the Pontians, attacked in force and drove the Pontian army off the field of battle.
The Romans did not pursue King Mithridates, however, because something else occupied their attention. Dozens of casks of pure honey had been abandoned by the Pontian Army, and immediately the Roman soldiers began to gorge themselves on the sweet amber goo. Back then honey (or any sugary food) was a rare delicacy, reserved for only the rich and the privileged. Little did they know that the honey was part of King Mithridates trap.
In that particular region of Turkey grows a species of rhododendron whose flowers contain high concentrations of the chemical grayanotoxin. Bees often collect nectar from the flowers and use it to make honey. The grayanotoxin remains in the honey, and when ingested can cause extreme inebriation and hallucinations. An overdose on mad honey can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. The locals had known about mad honey for thousands of years, adding small amounts of it to wine for an extra kick. The Roman Army, after gorging themselves on the honey, was transformed from a disciplined army into a wasted mob that rivaled Woodstock and Burning Man. In short order, the Romans began totally tripping balls.
Shortly afterwards King Mithridates army returned and slaughtered the helpless Roman force. While it was a great victory for King Mithridates, it was a trick that would only work once. Gen. Pompey returned with another army and crushed the Kingdom of Pontus. King Mithridates committed suicide in 63 BC.
Gen. Pompey would become one of the most celebrated heroes of the Roman Republic, gaining the title Pompey “The Great”. In 49 BC, then an old man, Pompey was called again to defend Rome against another great Roman general; Julius Caesar. He would lose and Caesar would be declared “Dictator for Life”. Pompey was betrayed and stabbed to death on the shores of Egypt in in 48 BC.
Today mad honey is sometimes used as a sexual stimulant. 21 known cases of mad honey poisoning have been documented in Turkey over the past 5 years.