Aqua Tofana (also known as Acqua Toffana, Acquetta Perugina, and Aqua Tufania and Manna di San Nicola) was a strong poison created in Sicily around 1630[1] that was reputedly widely used in Naples,[2] Perugia, and Rome, Italy. It has been associated with Giulia Tofana, or Tofania, a woman from Palermo, purportedly the leader of a ring of six poisoners in Rome, who sold Aqua Tofana to would-be widows.

Poison "Manna di San Nicola" (Aqua Tofana), by Pierre Méjanel.

Original creationEdit

The first recorded mention of Aqua Tofana is from 1632–33,[3][4] when it was used by two women, Francesca la Sarda and Teofania di Adamo, to poison their victims. It may have been invented by, and named after, Teofania.[5] She was executed for her crimes but several women associated with her including Giulia Tofana (who may have been her daughter) and Gironima Spana moved on to Rome and continued manufacturing and distributing the poison.[6]

The 'tradename' "Manna di San Nicola" ("Manna of St. Nicholas of Bari") may have been a marketing device intended to divert the authorities, given that the poison was openly sold both as a cosmetic and a devotionary object in vials that included a picture of St. Nicholas. Over 600 victims[2] are alleged to have died from this poison, mostly husbands, in a time when women had few rights and little protection.

Between 1666 and 1676 the Marchioness de Brinvilliers poisoned her father and two brothers, amongst others, and she was executed on July 16, 1676.[7]


The active ingredients of the mixture are basically known, but not how they were blended. Aqua Tofana contained mostly arsenic and lead, and possibly belladonna. It was a colorless, tasteless liquid and therefore easily mixed with water or wine to be served during meals.


Poisoning by Aqua Tofana could go unnoticed, as the substance is clear and has no taste. It is slow-acting, with symptoms resembling those of a progressive disease or other natural causes. The symptoms seen are similar to the effects of arsenic poisoning. Several symptoms were reported by those poisoned by Aqua Tofana. The first small dosage would produce cold-like symptoms. The victim was very ill by the third dose; symptoms included vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, and a burning sensation in the digestive system. The antidote often given was vinegar and lemon juice. The fourth dose would kill the victim. As it was slow-acting, it allowed victims time to prepare for their death, including writing a will and repenting.[8][9]

Legend about MozartEdit

The legend that Mozart (1756–1791) was poisoned using Aqua Tofana[10] is completely unsubstantiated, even though it was Mozart himself who started this rumor.[11] Research by musicologists Oliver Hahn and Claudia Maurer Zenck on Mozart's manuscripts, however, revealed large amounts of arsenic in the manuscript of Die Zauberflöte, the opera Mozart was working on towards the end of his life. Arsenic is a key ingredient of Aqua Tofana.


  1. ^ Philip Wexler, Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Elsevier Science - 2017, pages 63-64
  2. ^ a b Stuart, David C. (2004). Dangerous Garden. Harvard University Press. p. 118. ISBN 9780674011045. La Toffana....aqua Toffana
  3. ^ Dash, Mike. "Aqua Tofana". Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  4. ^ Philip Wexler, Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Elsevier Science, 2017, pages 63–64
  5. ^ Philip Wexler, Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Elsevier Science, 2017, pages 63–64
  6. ^ Philip Wexler, Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Elsevier Science, 2017, pages 63–64
  7. ^ Vincent, Benjamin (1863). Dictionary of Dates. London.
  8. ^ Dash, Mike (2017). "Chapter 6 - Aqua Tofana". In Wexler, Philip (ed.). Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Academic Press. pp. 63–69. ISBN 9780128095546.
  9. ^ "Aqua Tofana: slow-poisoning and husband-killing in 17th century Italy". A Blast From The Past. 6 April 2015.
  10. ^ Chorley, Henry Fothergill. 1854. Modern German Music: Recollections and Criticisms. London: Smith, Elder & Co., p. 193.
  11. ^ Robbins Landon, H. C., 1791: Mozart's Last Year, Schirmer Books, New York (1988), pp. 148 ff.

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