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Grislier Than Imagination!

The Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II
The mythical city of Babylon is thousands of miles away from his birthplace Macedonia. Alexander III of Macedon (July 356 BCE – June 323 BCE), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was lying in his deathbed at the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II or Nebuchadrezzar II, the King of Babylon, in Babylon. He was kept in the largest room of the palace. By that time, Alexander almost lost his speech. The people of Babylon started visiting the palace to bid the great warrior adieu. Alexander, reportedly, could thank them by nodding his head, or even by blinking his eyes.

The Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II

Earlier, he had covered 21000 miles in 11 years to expand his Empire from Macedonia to the Hindu Kush, an 800km-long mountain range that stretches through Afghanistan, from its centre to Northern Pakistan and into Tajikistan. On his way back, he had contracted an unknown disease. It is believed that upon his arrival in Babylon, he, along with some of his friends, drank throughout the night, which had resulted in his falling seriously ill to the extent that he was unable to move! The King, on his deathbed, had reportedly asked his generals to fulfil three strange wishes of him, which were:

i) His physicians were to be the only ones who were supposed to carry his dead body
ii) He further had expressed the desire to have the path, leading to his grave, to be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones that were then in his treasury while his body was to be carried for burial; and
iii) His third and final wish was that both his hands be kept dangling out of his coffin.

Alexander the Great

After taking a deep breath, Alexander reportedly told his generals: “I want everybody to learn three lessons that I have learned in my life.” He added: “I want my physicians to carry my body alone because I want people to know that no doctor can cure people’s illnesses, especially when they face death. No physician or doctor is as powerful to save people from the clutch of death. So, don’t let people take life for granted.” The King stressed: “I want the path leading to my grave to be strewn with gold, silver, and precious stones while my body is being carried to be buried because I want people to know that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent my whole life chasing power and wealth. Whatever earned in the earth remains here. I want people to realise that it is a complete waste of your life and time to run after wealth and power.” He further said: “I want my both hands to keep dangling out of my coffin because I want people to know that we came empty-handed in this world and we will go empty-handed.” The King’s final words were: “When you bury my body, don’t build any mausoleum there, and keep my hands outside so that the world knows that the person who won the whole world had nothing in his hand while dying.” There is no historical evidence of this incident, although it is attributed to him. As for the hands out of the grave, it has been heard about Mahmud of Ghazni or Mahmud Ghaznavi (November 2, 971 – April 30, 1030), the first independent ruler of the Turkic Dynasty of Ghaznavids, as well!

June 11, BCE 323: The Fateful Day?
His Generals, reportedly, had then asked Alexander the Great as to who, among them, would be eligible to wear the ring, carrying his seal, after his death? “The One, who is the strongest,” replied the King. He had lost his senses in the afternoon. His wives Roxana (m. 327 BCE), Stateira II (m. 324 BCE) and Parysatis II (m. 324 BCE) rushed to his room, immediately after receiving the news. The King’s most favourite General Seleucus the Victor was also present, there. He had spent the previous night at the Temple of Isis and Serapis, as he prayed for his Lord.

However, Alexander the Great breathed his last at 4-5pm in front of his physicians, after being bed-ridden for 11 days. He was just 33. The cause of his death is still a mystery. No one, from historians to researchers, could agree on the cause of his death. The names of various diseases have come up as the cause of his death… Malaria, Typhoid, Spondylitis, Meningitis, Pancreatitis, etc. Some are even of the opinion that the Greek hero died of a virus attack in the western region of River Nile.

Alexander in deathbed

Again, a section of Historians believes that there was a deep conspiracy behind Alexander’s death. They are of the opinion that he was poisoned to death by Antipater, the General who became the ruler of Macedonia after Alexander left for Asia. Antipater continued to rule Macedonia after Alexander’s demise.

Action related to the plant Veratrum Album?
After conducting research for a decade, Dr Leo Schep of the University of Otago’s Poison Centre has claimed that White Hellebore or Veratrum Album, a poisonous plant in the family Melanthiaceae, was used as medicine in Ancient Greece. According to Dr Schep, someone might have mixed the poison with the wine that Alexander the Great had consumed.

White Hellebore

A Case Of Pseudo-Thanatos?
The Greeks used to refer Alexander the Great as God, and the King, himself, used to think that he was no ordinary man! Even six days after his death, his body did not show any sign of decomposition. Dr Katherine Hall, the Senior Lecturer at the Department of General Practice and Rural Health (Dunedin) of University of Otago, recently penned an article on Alexander’s death in The Ancient History Bulletin magazine. She mentioned that the King was suffering from high fever and severe lower abdominal pain before his death. According to Dr Hall, perhaps there was a bacterial infection, named Campylobacter Pylori, in his body. As a result, he contracted a disease, called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). It is a rare, but deadly neurological disease, which attacks the healthy cells of the nervous system. Dr Hall is of the opinion that Alexander died of GBS.

Dr Katherine Hall

It may be noted that GBS is a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of its peripheral nervous system, the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord. GBS can range from a very mild case with brief weakness to nearly devastating paralysis, leaving the person unable to breathe independently. Fortunately, most people eventually recover from even the most severe cases of GBS. After recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness.

Alexander’s Coffin at a museum in Istanbul

Dr Hall claimed that Alexander’s body did not get decomposed even six days after his death, because the King had been still alive at that time! In fact, his whole body was paralysed, argued the researcher. She further claimed that the Great Greek Warrior was conscious (compos mentis) until the moment before his death! As his body was paralysed, the functions of various organs were decreasing. Hence, the need for oxygen, too, was decreasing, thus, slowing the breathing process! The physicians used to notice the breathing process of a person in order to identify whether the patient was alive or dead at that period of time! The practice to observe the pulse rate was yet to begin. It was hence, possibly, the doctors declared him dead six days before his death. Although everyone present thought that the King was dead, Alexander was still alive. His death occurred six days after he was pronounced dead. Hence, everyone was surprised to find that his body was intact even a week after his demise!

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