For thousands of years speculation regarding the fate of Alexander the Great and what indeed did kill him at the young age of 32 has given birth to hundreds of theories, from natural causes to secretly murdered through poisoning at a celebratory banquet.
The mystery of why the Greek King of Macedon, ruler of the largest empire in the ancient world’s death has perplexed historians and scientists for over 2000 years. Now a New Zealand toxicologist claims that Alexander the Great may have been killed by toxic wine made from a poisonous plant.
Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist from New Zealand’s National Poisons Centre, says it is impossible that poisons such as arsenic were to blame – as cited in some theories – because death would have come too quickly. Alexander’s death in 323BC happened at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon after he developed a fever and was unable to speak and walk. He was ill for 12 days before dying.
Dr Schep has been working on the mystery for over 10 years after he was approached by a team for a BBC documentary in 2003. His research argues that the most likely culprit was Veratrum album, a poisonous plant from the lily family also known as white or false hellebore. The plant was often fermented by the Greeks as a herbal medicine for inducing vomiting; importantly, it could account for the 12 days it took for the Great one to die. The diagnosis matches the account of Alexander the Great’s death written by ancient Greek historian Diodorus, who said he was struck with pain after drinking a large bowl of unmixed wine in honour of Hercules.
“Veratrum poisoning is heralded by the sudden onset of epigastric and substernal pain, which may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, followed by bradycardia and hypotension with severe muscular weakness. Alexander suffered similar features for the duration of his illness,” the research, printed in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology says.
“They asked me to look into it for them and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give it a go, I like a challenge’ – thinking I wasn’t going to find anything. And to my utter surprise, and their surprise, we found something that could fit the bill,” he told The New Zealand Herald. Dr Shep does however caution that despite his theory, the actual cause of death cannot be proven. “We’ll never know really,” he said.
Source: Independent