Sunday, August 15, 2010


Alexander the Great was killed by a deadly bacterium found in the River Styx, rather than by a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon, scientists believe.

American researchers have found a striking correlation between the symptoms suffered by Alexander before his death in 323 BC, and the effects of the highly toxic bacterium. They have speculated that the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swathes of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the River Styx in Greece.

The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

The ancient Greeks maintained that its waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules. Alexander fell ill during a drinking party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq. He complained of a "sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver" and had to be taken to bed where, over the next 12 days, he developed a high fever and excruciating pains to his joints.

His condition worsened, he fell into a coma, and is believed to have died on June 10 or 11, 323BC - just shy of his 33rd birthday. Historians have speculated that his death was brought about by heavy drinking, typhoid, malaria, acute pancreatitis, West Nile fever or poisoning. Experts who have reviewed the circumstances of his death believe instead that he may have been killed by calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.

Richard Stoneman, the author of Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend, said: "I personally think that Alexander probably died of natural causes - either typhoid or an overdose of the hellebore used to treat his illness - but other views are possible."

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