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What Caused the Untimely Death of Alexander the Great?

Alexander the great death
A new theory suggests that the great commander had contracted the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Credit: Public domain

The untimely death of Alexander the Great on June 10, 323 B.C. in Babylon has long been a topic of hot debate by historians.

The leading theories as to what killed the 33-year-old warrior—infection, alcoholism, or murder—still don’t explain the fact that his body didn’t decompose for six days.

According to the University of Maryland School of Medicine report of 1998, Alexander the Great probably died of typhoid fever, which, along with malaria, was common in ancient Babylon.

In the week before his death, historical accounts mention chills, sweats, exhaustion and high fever, all typical symptoms of infectious diseases, including typhoid fever.

According to David W. Oldach from the University of Maryland Medical Center, Alexander also had “severe abdominal pain, causing him to cry out in agony.”

Throughout the centuries, suspicions of possible poisoning have fallen on a number of alleged perpetrators, including one of Alexander’s wives, his generals, his illegitimate half-brother, and the royal cup-bearer.

According to historians Andrew N. Williams and Robert Arnott, in his last days, Alexander was unable to speak, which was due to a previous injury to his neck during the siege of the Cyropolis.

Alexander the Great’s death caused by the Guillain-Barré Syndrome

New Zealand’s Katherine Hall, a senior lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine, has come up with a new theory: She thinks the body of Alexander wasn’t decomposing because he was, in fact, still alive.

She postulates that the great commander had contracted the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome from a common infection of the time.

Guillain-Barre is a neurological disorder causing paralysis throughout the body, something which could have affected his motor nerves.

“So Alexander could very well have been lying there, unable to move a muscle, and actually still be alive because they didn’t actually take pulses at that time to determine whether people were dead,” Hall states.

“My theory actually provides a rationale for why he did not decompose,” she says. “And that being, that he wasn’t actually dead yet.”

Dr. Hall worked in intensive care units for five years and has seen many patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

She believes Alexander may have been in a coma with his breathing almost invisible to observers.

“For one thing, if my theory is correct, the history books should be rewritten actually,” Dr. Hall revealed. “Because his date of death should actually be six days later than what is recorded.”

This is a theory she is preparing to defend as the latest chapter is written in Alexander the Great’s fascinating life story.

Related: What Alexander the Great Really Looked Like

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