The 14th century bronze ring, unearthed by archaeologists at the site of a former Black Sea fortress, features a hollow cartridge which allowed the wearer to pour arsenic into food or drink.
Dr Boni Petrunova of the National Archaeology Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Science, who led the dig, said: “It’s a unique ring. I have no doubts that the hole is there on purpose and the ring was worn on the right hand, because the hole was made in such a way so as to be covered by a finger, thus the poison could be dropped at a moment’s notice. Clearly, it was not worn constantly and would have been put on when necessary.”
Poison rings date back to the Romans, but were used through to the 16th and 17th centuries. Originally designed as a method of suicide for victims anticipating a violent or painful death, they soon became popular as a covert murder weapon. The poison used in this ring was most likely arsenic in powder form – the weapon of choice by political assassins in Venice at that time.
The site of the find – Cape Kaliakra, near the Black Sea coastal town of Kavarna in northeast Bulgaria – was at the centre of a vicious inter-family power struggle in the 14th century between Dobrotitsa, who ruled the independent Principality of Karvuna, and his son Ivanko. The ring may help explain the mysterious deaths of many noblemen close to Dobrotitsa during that period.