The mysterious death of Alexander the Great

The mysterious death of Alexander the Great


  • 1 His last words in Babylon
  • 2 The young Macedonian
  • 3 A myth for posterity
  • 4 Poisoning
  • 5 Peritonitis Acute pancreatitis
  • 6 Malaria
  • 7 Yellow fever
  • 8 Extraordinary health
  • 9 Alexander the Great and homosexuality
  • 10 The son of the gods fulminated

His last words in Babylon

Alexander of Macedonia died, according to chronological calculations, in Babylon, on June 13, 323 B.C. This young king, only 32 years old, would go on to posterity like the great Alexander the Great. When his death occurred, he was surrounded by all the generals of his great army.

Finding himself on the deathbed, already without any lucidity, his generals urged him to declare who he left as heir to his kingdom. Alejandro's lips barely moved and he babbled a single word. None of those present agreed on that last word pronounced by their dying leader.

Some thought he had said "Kratisto", which means "to the strongest." Others thought that he had said the name "Herakles", who was his four-year-old son, the result of his union with Barsina, his fourth and illegitimate wife. Perhaps he pronounced other similar words, but each one understood what best suited his own interests.

A few moments later, the man who thought he was the son of the gods died. His death appears fatally linked to the number 3 because he died after 13 days of illness, in the 13th year of his reign, 3 weeks before he turned 33, on the corresponding day, in our calendar, as of June 13, 323 B.C..

The young Macedonian

Alexander III of Macedonia was son of Olympia of Epirus and Philip II of Macedonia. He was educated to govern, receiving from his father military training and from Aristotle a solid intellectual formation.

After the murder of his father, Philip, inherited the throne and continued the paternal plan to unify the Greek cities and conquer the entire Persian empire, secular enemy of the Greek people.

It is not necessary to explain, as it is well known, what Alexander III of Macedonia did in his thirteen years of his reign. Suffice it to say, that in such a short period of time, from your small home region in Macedonia, conquered all of Greece, Asia Minor and extended its empire from India to Egypt.

A myth for posterity

Alexander believed himself the son of a God and his appearance could make him believe so. He was a vigorous young man, with blond and curly hair, of medium height. He was slender, but of great strength. He had clear eyes, an elongated head and a fascinating personality.

His image fell in love with all Antiquity and even the most regal gentlemen of our Middle Ages. Let's not forget that Alejandro is the chivalrous idol of the Medieval Era and one of the icons of the walking cavalry. Alexander dazzled European medieval knights as much as he had dazzled his contemporaries in antiquity.

Even if his enormous empire was ephemeral and his successors stained his hands with blood and squandered his inheritance, history has left us the indelible image of a myth. A conquering hero who believed himself the son of a God, who shone like no one until the end of his short life: the fiercest in battle, the wisest in the organization of the state, the bravest and most thrown in the fight, the most talkative and convincing of the philosophers, the most drinker in orgies, the one who loved his friends most, the most indifferent to women, but also the cruelest administering justice.

Alexander had a skin of white fineness, tanned by the sun of the East. A man with a wide and clear forehead, whom the gods anointed to reach power. A splendid guy, without a doubt, who fell fulminated in Babylon at the peak of his might, days before leaving with his fleet to conquer the mysterious Africa.

Theories about his death

His disease lasted thirteen days and the evolution of it has detailed news and descriptions. But what was the cause of the death of that robust man who had survived dozens of war wounds (sometimes almost miraculously), who had scarred his skin?


There are different and varied hypotheses. The first theory is that of poisoning. Arriano de Nicomedia, who was his personal biographer, picked up this news but did not give him much credibility.

Apparently, Alexander was poisoned by order of Antipater, who was its governor in Macedonia. This one, he would have given his son Casandro, a poison he had hidden in the horseshoe of a mule and handed over to Alejandro's cupbearer. The cupbearer, named Jollas, who was the son of Antipater and brother of Casandro, mixed the poison with the water and the wine of Alexander's cup. On the night of May 30, during a banquet at the house of Tesalio Medius, Alejandro said goodbye personally to his soldiers, before leaving for Africa, he drank the wine and soon felt unwell.

This interpretation of his death is somewhat twisted and seems more likely to die of peritonitis, acute pancreatitis, malaria or yellow fever. The thesis of poisoning was defended with burning by his mother Olympia, because she was a declared enemy of Antipater and for political reasons she was interested in blaming him for Alejandro's death.

The symptoms of Alejandro's death do not seem to match any of the most used poisons in antiquity, since his death lasted 13 days and the poisons to use were of rapid and lethal effects. None of the known poisons causes a feverish picture maintained for days, like the one that Alexander the Great suffered.

Peritonitis. Acute pancreatitis

Regarding a possible peritonitis, it would have been very difficult to diagnose with the medical knowledge of the time, as well as acute pancreatitis. Against these hypothetical diagnoses is the fact that in the days before his illness he ate voraciously and enjoyed enviable health. During the first five days of his illness he kept his desire to eat intact. On the other hand, these two diseases present a very acute picture that evolves, especially at that time, to death in a short time.


Death from malaria or malaria is the most accepted diagnosis by historians, although it is quite strange, that his contemporaries, who knew malaria very well, do not blame this disease, so common at that time, his death.

Remember that malaria was a terrible plague in ancient times. Illustrious researchers and scientists affirm that “there are good reasons to think that malaria played an important role in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, of Greece and of the ancient power and civilization of the island of Ceylon ”.

On the other hand, it is hard work to believe that a person, from Alejandro's fortress, could die in such a short time due to a malaria infection, however serious it might be.

Yellow fever

Another of the most suggestive hypotheses about his death is that it was caused by yellow fever. Yellow fever is a viral infection caused by a flavirus and transmitted by a mosquito bite, mainly Aedes aegypti, although other types of mosquitoes can also intervene. In ancient times yellow fever was also known as the "black vomit" disease.

In its severe forms it causes acute hepatorenal failure, with fever, headache, malaise, generalized hemorrhages, soft palate with hemorrhagic stitches, gingivorrhagia, vomiting of black and coagulated blood, melena, jaundice, proteinuria and bradycardia despite the febrile picture ( Faget sign). At the beginning of the infection, he develops leukopenia and neutropenia. In the most serious cases death comes from hepatic or renal coma.

Could you die of Yellow Fever?

It is known that Alejandro came, along with his admiral Nearco, to inspect the ships of his fleet, with which he intended to invade the East African coast. It is not unreasonable to think that there was an epidemic of yellow fever. This disease is transmitted by various kinds of mosquitoes and, especially, the Aedes Aegipty. The symptoms of Yellow Fever fit quite well with the descriptions of Alejandro's disease, left by the chroniclers.

Moreover, one of the causes of death from Yellow Fever is acute liver failure that leads to a final hepatic coma. In this regard, the most illustrious researchers agree that Alejandro's death was due to liver failure.

The chroniclers tell how at the time of embalming his body, seven days after his death, he still retained a certain vital freshness without the slightest discoloration. We could suppose that being Alejandro with light skin, although very tanned, the yellow tint of a post mortem jaundice could simulate a fresher skin tone, as opposed to the lightness of bodies with little tanned skin.

Extraordinary health

It should be noted that regardless of the cause of his death, there is a certain fact, which is the extraordinary health of Alexander the Great. The young Macedonian in his thirty two years of life had never been ill. He received multiple wounds, some serious, in the chest, in the occipital area of ​​his skull, and in the leg. In the Hindustan campaign an arrow struck him between the abdomen and the ribs and was on the verge of death for several days.

However, Alejandro showed admirable health and of all those wounds heals quickly. They tell their closest chroniclers, who in one of his campaigns, at the foot of the Himalayas, bathed in the icy waters of a river and suffered a fading, before the strong impression received. Except for his war wounds and this aquatic event was never sick and he was in excellent health.

Alexander the Great and homosexuality

There are data, more than contrasted to believe that Alexander the Great, according to the customs of his time, was homosexual. Despite this, he married four times: with Roxana, with the daughter of King Darío, Estateira, with the daughter of King Ochos, Parisatis, and with the daughter of the Persian prince Artabazo, called Barsina. Of the latter he had a son named Heracles. A posthumous son named Alejandro would be born from Roxana.

Throughout his life he had a deep love for his friend Hephaestion, whom he married in the Persian city of Susa, with Estateira's sister. Historians tell that Hephaestion's death caused inhuman pain in Alexander: “He locked himself in a room for three days, next to the dead friend's body, without trying to bite, without drinking and without eating, shouting and howling in pain as if he had lost his mind ”.

Before his death, as would happen years later to the Roman emperor Nero, he fell in love with a Persian eunuch of great beauty. The chroniclers say that, with this slave, named Bagoas, “More than once he was seen dancing and kissing at banquets”.

The son of the gods fulminated

History sometimes gives us great paradoxes, and this vital man, who had not known the disease, was surprised by death when nobody expected it. No one could assume that a man, who was called the son of the gods, and who lived and acted as such, could die so abruptly in a few days.

Today most researchers and historians think that his death was probably due to an infectious disease, be it yellow fever or malaria. In any case, his sudden death put an end to the life of one of the greatest conquerors humanity has ever known. In thirteen years he conquered and placed at his feet much of the known world.

It is hard for us to imagine how far his conquests had come, if the simple bite of a mosquito at the mouth of the Euphrates River had not transmitted to him the fateful disease that ended his life. If the mosquito was a Anopheles, who inoculated malaria, or a Aedes Aegipty, bearer of yellow fever, is irrelevant. The truth is that his bite ended with a great man and resulted in the birth of a unique myth.

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