Date of Award
Master of Arts
Several factors have influenced research on the topic of ancient suicide. In the last ten years suicide has reached almost epidemic proportions in the U.S.A. In 1967 there were 21,325 reported suicides, or almost eleven suicides for every 100,000 people in the United States. In 1974 there will be over 25,000 people who take their lives; the actual total probably is at least twice or maybe triple this number, since many suicides are labeled accidental. For every recorded suicide there are at least eight attempts. The problem of suicide is fast becoming a symptom of modern living, especially in the United States. The constant reports of well-known national and prominent local people who commit suicide are commonplace.
In addition to the concern for modern suicide, another factor is the lack of modern research on ancient suicide. The English language seems to be devoid of any work dealing with ancient suicide per se. This implies an indifference to a modern problem which possibly can be better understood by delving into the ancient sources.
The lack of statistical information in ancient Rome hinders any work of this nature. References to suicide in the ancient sources support some observations. However, these sources were preoccupied mainly with the aristocracy, not with the hoi polloi. Unfortunately, the frequency of suicide among the plebians or slaves must remain a mystery. Furthermore, there are few facts to substantiate a modern thesis that the poor commit suicide to escape their miserable plight.
A number of primary and secondary sources have been investigated, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the similarities and differences between ancient Rome and the modern civilization of the United States. Some of these observations were startling while others were disappointing because no certain conclusions could be deduced.
Ruff, Carmine Anthony, "The complexity of Roman suicide" (1974). Master's Theses. 937.