Was Alexander the Great killed with poisoned wine?
Researchers in New Zealand come up with intriguing new theory
Leaving behind an illustrious empire before he died at the age of 32, Alexander the Great died in great pain following a banquet in 323 BC. Historians and researchers have long debated that his death was either due to natural causes or that he was secretly murdered. An Otago University scientist now may have finally unraveled the case 2000 years later.
Historians and researchers have long debated that Alexander the Great's death was either due to natural causes or that he was secretly murdered.
Co-authored by Otago University classics expert Dr. Pat Wheatley and published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology, Schep found the most plausible culprit was Veratrum album, more commonly known as white hellebore.
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Well-known to the Greeks as an herbal treatment for inducing vomiting, the white-flowered plant can easily be fermented into a poisonous wine. It could have accounted for the 12 torturous days that Alexander took to die, which left him speechless and unable to walk.
Hemlock, aconite, wormwood, henbane and autumn crocus, all other highly toxic poisons would have killed Alexander far more quickly.
Schep began looking into the mystery when he was approached by a company working on a BBC documentary in 2003. "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," he said.
"And to my utter surprise, and their surprise, we found something that could fit the bill."
His theory is that Veratrum album could have been fermented as a wine that was given to the leader.
It would have tasted "very bitter" but it could have been sweetened. Schep theorized that Alexander was likely to have been very drunk at the banquet.
However, whether Alexander was poisoned is still a mystery. "We'll never know really," Schep said in conclusion.
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