THE mystery over the death of Alexander the Great may have finally been solved – and his passing was grislier than historians had ever imagined.
The fearsome military genius succumbed to a rare disease that left him paralysed for six days, gradually robbing him of his ability to move, speak and breath, claims a new study.
It means the ancient Macedonian ruler was likely still alive while his loyal soldiers prepared his body for burial in 323 BC.
His muscles were paralysed to the point that doctors couldn't see he was still breathing, meaning he was pronounced dead nearly a week early.
One of history's finest warmongers, Alexander the Great established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen through a series of ferocious military conquests.
At the age of 25, his army overcame overwhelming odds to crush the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat.
The towering leader fell ill suddenly in Babylon aged 32, and for decades historians have puzzled over what finished him off, with some blaming typhoid, alcoholism or even poison.
Now health boffins in New Zealand think they have the answer: A rare autoimmune disease that destroyed his body from the inside.
They suggest the condition left him paralysed and unable to speak, meaning his staff failed to recognise, for nearly a week, that their king was still alive.
"I wanted to stimulate new debate and discussion and possibly rewrite the history books by arguing Alexander's real death was six days later than previously accepted," said study author Dr Katherine Hall, of the Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand.
Here's everything you need to know...
- Alexander the Great is the outstanding military genius of antiquity — a seemingly invincible general who conquered half the known world in his short life.
- To the ancients he was the ultimate hero – unflinchingly brave, outrageously daring, generous to his enemies and devoted to his friends.
- But there was a darker side to Alexander and his life story is peppered with tales of drunken brutality and bloody purges.
- Alexander was born in 356 BC, the son of Philip II, king of the northern Greek state of Macedonia.
- As a child, he was taught by the great philosopher Aristotle, and became king of Macedon when Philip was assassinated by a disgruntled guardsman in 336 BC.
- One of history's finest warmongers, Alexander established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen through a series of ferocious military conquests.
- At the age of 25, his army overcame overwhelming odds to crush the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat.
- His empire stretched across three continents, covering 2million square miles.
- Alexander inspired such loyalty in his men they’d follow him anywhere and, if necessary, die in the process.
- He passed away aged just 32 in Babylon, the metropolis he had planned to make his capital.
- The cause of his death is unknown, though historians have blamed typhoid, alcoholism or poison.
"His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded."
Dr Hall's team pored over ancient accounts of Alexander's symptoms, as well as modern medical textbooks, for their research.
His illness is said to have begun after a raucous night of drinking in which he downed 12 pints of wine.
Alexander complained of fatigue and "generalised aches" the next morning, but chose to power through another dozen pints of wine that evening.
A day later, and sharp abdominal pains plagued Alexander, while an increasingly severe fever took hold of the doomed warrior.
Bedridden and in excruciating pain, Alexander gradually lost his ability to move, only able to flicker his eyes and twitch his hands just eight days after his symptoms began.
By the eleventh day, the King of Macedonia and Persia was pronounced dead, though staff claimed he remained sound of mind right until the end.
Dr Hall says Alexander's symptoms match up with the brain disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).
The disease occurs when the body's immune system attacks its nervous system, gradually paralysing the victim.
It affects one in 100,000 people in the UK and US today.
Dr Hall says GBS would explain the fearsome warrior's paralysis, which first took the use of his legs and arms before rendering him unable to speak.
The disease, caused by a bacterial infection in the stomach, does not affect the brain, which matches reports that Alexander was sound of mind through his illness.
His new diagnosis raises the gruesome possibility that Alexander was still alive long after he was pronounced dead.
At the time, doctors didn't use your pulse to check if you were still alive, instead looking for signs you were still breathing.
The paralysis would have gradually restricted Alexander's respiratory muscles until his breaths were so small that doctors couldn't spot the movement of his chest.
Greek scholars later wrote that in the days after his death, Alexander's body didn't decompose, proving the warrior king was a god.
But Dr Hall says this may have been because he was in fact still alive.
She added that Alexander was likely was in a coma by the time preparations for his death began.
"It is very likely [he] was in a deep coma by this stage and would have had no awareness when they began their task," she said.
The research was published in the journal The Ancient History Bulletin.
Much about Alexander's incredible life – and grim death – remains a mystery.
Recently a team of drone-flying archaeologists stumbled upon a long lost city founded by the great ruler in modern day Iraq.
Alexander was floated as the possible owner of a 9-foot sarcophagus opened in Egypt last July.
What do you think of Alexander's new diagnosis? Let us know in the comments!