Alexander and Caesar Ailurophobes?

The Daily Mail excerpts some questionable things from a Pointless Things compendium, inter alia:

[...] Some famous people apparently had ailurophobia – a fear of cats: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, William Shakespeare, Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, Isadora Duncan, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Oh, and Dwight D Eisenhower is said to have had his staff shoot any cats seen on the grounds of his home. [...]

This seems to be a pretty standard list repeated all over the interwebs, but I’m really curious … does anyone recall a story/anecdote in an ancient source which might have given Alexander and/or Caesar the ailurophobe tag?

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Bust of Alexander from Cyprus

From ANSA:

Archaeologists in Cyprus found a marble bust of Alexander the Great – considered one of history’s most successful commanders – in a second three-aisled basilica that was brought to light on the site of Katalymmata ton Plakoton, of the Akrotiri peninsula, as Greek Reporter website writes. Excavations by the Cyprus Antiquities Department in the area have been in progress since 2007 when the first basilica was revealed. It is believed that the two basilicas are part of a monumental ecclesiastical complex which according to Eleni Procopiou, an area officer for the Antiquities Department, is related to St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, the patron saint of Limassol. The first basilica is a burial monument 36 meters in width and 29 meters in length. Procopiou stated that the second basilica is also a burial monument 20 meters in width and 47 meters in length. It is estimated that the findings date back to the second decade of the 7th century, between 616-617 A.D.

via: Archaeology: bust of Alexander the Great found in Cyprus (ANSA)

I haven’t been able to find a photo of the bust and I don’t think we’ve mentioned this dig before …

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Tomb of Alexander the Great Found?

This appears to be a hoax … the site Greek Reporter got it from is a hoax site that I’ve warned others about. Oh tempora! Oh mores! Dang. (tip o’ the pileus to M Fletcher on Twitter for pointing out my folly)


From Greek Reporter, which is not known as a font of accuracy alas, but they mention all the right things, more or less:

A team of archaeologists and historians from the Polish Center of Archaeology have revealed a mausoleum made of marble and gold that might be the tomb of Alexander the Great. The site is situated in an area known as Kom el-Dikka in the heart of downtown Alexandria, only 60 meters away from the Mosque of Nebi Daniel.

The monument was apparently sealed off and hidden in the 3rd or 4th century AD, to protect it from the christian repression and destruction of pagan monuments after the change of the official religion within the Roman Empire. It is a testimony to the multicultural nature of Alexander’s empire, as it combines artistic and architectural influences from Greek, Egyptian, Macedonian and Persian cultures. The inscriptions are mainly in Greek but there are also a few Egyptian hieroglyphs, mentioning that the mausoleum is dedicated to the “King of Kings, and Conqueror of the World, Alexander III.” The finding is extremely important as it can provide new information about Alexander the Great.

The mausoleum contains a broken sarcophagus made of crystal glass, 37 bones, mostly heavily damaged, presumably all from the same adult male and some broken pottery dating from the Ptolemaic and Roman ages. A carbon-dating analysis and a series of other tests will determine the age of the bones and if they belong to the Macedonian emperor.

Long time readers of rogueclassicism will know that we frequently get claims about the tomb of Alexander and it is one of the items which can set off the rogueclassicist’s skept-o-meter, but this seems to be the first one which actually puts it in the right place (i.e. Alexandria), has the right sort of sarcophagus,and it seems to be found by legit archaeologists (the Polish Mission has been digging there since at least (scroll down abit)). The only thing I’m not sure of is whether Alexander would have been referred to as Alexander III in an inscription — that, however, might be just a slip in an interview situation.

… our breath is bated for coverage from other news sources …

ADDENDUM (a few minutes later): adding to the intrigue is that this is the area where back in 2010 a temple of Queen Berenike was found amid speculation it was the actual location of Alexandria’s royal quarter. See Zahi Hawass’ undated press release:

… and an item in the Independent which helps us date the press release:

Latest Alexander Poisoning Suggestion

… comes from the journal Clinical Toxicology … here’s the abstract:

Objective. To investigate the death of Alexander the Great to determine if he died from natural causes or was poisoned and, if the latter, what was the most likely poison. Methods. OVID MEDLINE (January 1950–May 2013) and ISI Web of Science (1900–May 2013) databases were searched and bibliographies of identified articles were screened for additional relevant studies. These searches identified 53 relevant citations. Classical literature associated with Alexander’s death. There are two divergent accounts of Alexander’s death. The first has its origins in the Royal Diary, allegedly kept in Alexander’s court. The second account survives in various versions of the Alexander Romance. Nature of the terminal illness. The Royal Diary describes a gradual onset of fever, with a progressive inability to walk, leading to Alexander’s death, without offering a cause of his demise. In contrast, the Romance implies that members of Alexander’s inner circle conspired to poison him. The various medical hypotheses include cumulative debilitation from his previous wounds, the complications of alcohol imbibing (resulting in alcohol hepatitis, acute pancreatitis, or perforated peptic ulcer), grief, a congenital abnormality, and an unhealthy environment in Babylon possibly exacerbated by malaria, typhoid fever, or some other parasitic or viral illness. Was it poisoning? Of all the chemical and botanical poisons reviewed, we believe the alkaloids present in the various Veratrum species, notably Veratrum album, were capable of killing Alexander with comparable symptoms to those Alexander reportedly experienced over the 12 days of his illness. Veratrum poisoning is heralded by the sudden onset of epigastric and substernal pain, which may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, followed by bradycardia and hypotension with severe muscular weakness. Alexander suffered similar features for the duration of his illness. Conclusion. If Alexander the Great was poisoned, Veratrum album offers a more plausible cause than arsenic, strychnine, and other botanical poisons.

… and here is how it was rather responsibly reported in the New Zealand Herald:

An Otago University scientist may have unravelled a 2,000-year-old mystery of what killed Alexander the Great.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep thinks the culprit could be poisonous wine made from an innocuous-looking plant.

Classical scholars have been deeply divided about what killed the Macedonian leader, who built a massive empire before his death, aged 32, in June of 323BC. Some accounts say he died of natural causes but others suggested members of his inner circle conspired to poison him at a celebratory banquet.

Dr Schep, who has been researching the toxicological evidence for a decade, said some of the poisoning theories – including arsenic and strychnine – were laughable.

Death would have come far too fast, he said.

His research, co-authored by Otago University classics expert Dr Pat Wheatley and published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology, found the most plausible culprit was Veratrum album, known as white hellebore.

The white-flowered plant, which can be fermented into a poisonous wine, was well-known to the Greeks as a herbal treatment for inducing vomiting. Crucially, it could have accounted for the 12 torturous days that Alexander took to die, speechless and unable to walk. Other suggested poisons – including hemlock, aconite, wormwood, henbane and autumn crocus – would likely have killed him far more quickly.

Dr Schep began looking into the mystery in 2003 when he was approached by a company working on a BBC documentary.

“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. And to my utter surprise, and their surprise, we found something that could fit the bill.”

Dr Schep’s theory was 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 with wine – and Alexander was likely to have been very drunk at the banquet.

But whether Alexander was poisoned is still a mystery. “We’ll never know really … “

… we really haven’t heard anything on this particular theory for three or four years now … here’s a link which will take you to previous suggestions: Puddle Question: What Killed Alexander the Great?. Also worth noting is an abstract of a paper by Adrienne Mayor on the subject (although the link to the paper itself doesn’t appear to work): Citanda: The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander.

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Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that

This is another one of those mind bogglers which I don’t really understand … Back on August 21, a typically vague and brief item appeared in Greek Reporter:

A group of archaeologists in Amphipolis, a municipality in Serres, claim to have made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever, as they believe they have uncovered the tomb of Alexander the Great.

They said the tomb has a circumference of 498 meters, an artwork of perfection would only be built for a king.

Th masterpiece is externally covered with high quality exquisitely-carved marble, a remarkable feat given the tools available at the time.

The tomb once was covered with soil and topped with a lion, the one that has been reassembled further uphill and known as the Lion of Amphipolis which was found by Greek soldiers in 1912.

… which struck me as odd, especially given that none of the archaeologists involved were named, or even quoted. It struck me as odd especially because back in October, when this find was actually initially announced, there were plenty of names and quotes (see, e.g., Roxane’s Tomb?). In March, there were more developments and video coverage (Roxane’s Tomb Redux … click on the links therein as well for Dorothy King’s comments). In any event, because of this it wasn’t surprising to read an AP/Washington Post piece within a few hours suggesting it was ‘too early to tell’ … an excerpt:

[...] A Culture Ministry statement Thursday said the partly-excavated mound has yielded a “very remarkable” marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C. It is an impressive 500 meters (yards) long and three meters high.

But the ministry warned it would be “overbold” to link the site near ancient Amphipolis, 370 miles (600 kilometers) north of Athens, with “historic personages” before the excavation is completed. [...]

It’s worth noting that the info in the Washington Post piece is essentially the same (in that it really adds nothing) to the info we read back in October (including the name of the archaeologist who seems to be heading the dig (Aikaterini Peristeri). Again, though, it’s probably not surprising that we had the Greek Reporter (via  a different author), trying to do some face saving:

On Aug. 22, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports published an announcement on its official website about the way the media handled the recent excavation of a big built precinct of the 4th century B.C. in Kasta near Amphipolis, in the Serres regional unit of Greece.

As many Greek websites rushed to link the monument that was discovered to the long-sought tomb of warrior-king Alexander the Great, the Culture Ministry and in particular the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage felt it had to calm things down.

“The finding of Amphipolis is certainly very important, but before the excavation proceeds, any interpretation and mainly any identification with historical figures lacks scientific justification and is too risky,” the Ministry announced.

However, the Ministry admitted that the discovery of the marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C., 500 meters long and three meters high, is indeed very remarkable and of high archaeological importance.

I really can’t tell, but one suspects Enet (another English-language Greek newspaper) took great joy in posting only: Mound fuels heady speculation about Alexander the Great. Ditto for Kathimerini: Ministry warns against speculation that Alexander the Great’s grave has been found. Turkish Weekly is probably in the same boat: Greece: too early to say whether grave of Alexander the Great found.

So you’d think that would be the end of it and most people who read this blog are shaking their collective heads muttering things about Ptolemy and Alexandria. But nooooo … we read the International Business Times, which includes this bit, inter alia:

Lead archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri said the grave could contain a “significant individual” or individuals, hinting at the possibility that the remains of Alexander and his wife Roxanne, as well as his young successor, are inside the tomb. [...]

“Hinting”? Really? Didn’t know ‘hinting’ was the equivalent of a journalistic source. The ‘significant individual’ thing was made back in October. Speculation about others (including Roxane) was being made by municipal politician types.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mailhas been even more creative in its cutting and pasting of things written elsewhere, again, inter alia:

Site archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri has voiced hopes of finding ‘a significant individual or individuals’ within.

A Culture Ministry statement has enthused that the archaeologists have partly excavated a mound that has yielded a ‘very remarkable’ marble-faced wall from the late 4th century BC.

Experts believe the ancient artificial mound could contain the remains of the king, or is at least an important royal Macedonian grave. [...]

MSN then takes things to their illogical conclusion and cites the Daily Mail as the source for its brief item:

If found, the tomb of Alexander the Great would be one of the world’s greatest treasures. Now, archaeologists think they may have found it — not in Egypt, as long believed, but in Greece, around 400 miles north of Athens in the ancient city of Amphipolis. There researchers discovered “an impressive wall,” lined with marble, that might shield a “royal grave” for the 4th-century BC warrior king, whose distinctions include creating one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen. Alexander died young, perhaps at 32, after becoming ill or being poisoned

In short (or TL:DR), no archaeologist has actually made any suggestion that Alexander the Great might be buried in this mound. The only coverage where archaeologists have actually said anything comes back in October and then in March. All this speculation seems to have been made by some reporter at Greek Reporter with too much time on his hands who probably was chatting with some business folks in Serres who are trying to get some tourist bucks while the Culture Ministry was quick to try to bring some sanity back. Sadly, however, other news outlets ran-with-scissors-like to make this into the silliness we’ve witnessed these past few days and, no doubt, will see more in the next few.

By the way, if you’re new to this Alexander Tomb business, you might want to check out some of our previous posts:

… I could give more, but you get the idea. I’ll just sit here and let my mind boggle a bit more …

Alexander the Great(ish) Miniseries in Development

This looks interesting … the first couple of paragraphs from an item in Variety:

India’s Jungle Book Entertainment is targeting the U.S. market, working with Canadian producer Fred Fuchs to develop big-budget English-language TV drama “Greeks,” in association with Canada’s Take 5 Prods. (“Vikings”).

“Greeks” is set in 326 BC during Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Indian subcontinent. The skein focuses on two boys who study together, the Greek Seleucus Nicator and the Indian Chanakya, who find themselves in opposite camps years later when the former becomes a general in Alexander’s army and the latter is adviser to Indian ruler Chandragupta Maurya. [...]

Interesting premise … possibly has potential. It will probably inevitably be compared to Spartacus, though …

Alexander the Great and Mali

History Today pulled an interesting and timely piece from its archives t’other day … here’s a taste in medias res:

[...] On reading the epic [sc. the Mali Epic/Sundiata] one is struck by the frequent references to Djoula Kara Naini , the Mandinke corruption of Dhu’l Quarnein, the horned Alexander of the Middle Eastern romance tradition, the sixth great conqueror of the world and the defender of civilisation against the forces of Gog and Magog, who is mentioned in the seventh book of the History of the Jewish War of Josephus (ch 7) and in the eighteenth Shura of the Qur’an. On three occasions in the epic, Sundiata is referred to as ‘shield’, ‘bulwark’ and ‘seventh and last conqueror of the world’, excelling Djoula Kara Naini , respectively. There are two explicit references in the epic to Sundiata’s admiration for Alexander: as a child, at the feet of his griot, he ‘listened enraptured to the history of Djoula Kara Naini , the mighty king of gold and silver, whose sun shone over half the world’. Years later, while on campaign, he listened to the holy men who ‘often related to him the history of Djoula Kara Naini , and several other heroes, but of all of them Sundiata preferred Djoula Kara Naini the king of gold and silver, who crossed the world from west to east: he wanted to outdo his prototype both in the extent of his territory and wealth of his treasury’. The latter quotation itself suggests an instance of Sundiata’s ‘imitation': that is, his preference for the tales about Alexander corresponds to Alexander’s preference for the Iliad and for its hero whom he emulated. Indeed, Plutarch, in the seventh chapter of his life of Alexander, relates that Alexander used the Iliad as a vade mecum on his campaigns and kept it in a special casket. Alexander’s emulation of Achilles is attested in all the extant Alexander histories. [...]

… plenty of comparanda and Classical Reception things in this one to keep you busy on a cold day …

Dionysus in Australia

Some hype from the Sydney Morning Herald:

AS HEROIC gods go, Dionysus would fit right into Sydney: god of the grape harvest, bringer of culture and ritual ecstasy, he was the mythological inspiration for Alexander the Great, the 4th century BC Macedonian king and spreader of civilisations who is being honoured with his own blockbuster exhibition in our city on Saturday.

Dionysus, or at least his marble likeness cast in Rome in the second century AD based on the Greek BC original, arrived at the Australian Museum last week.

His tall, bespectacled courier, Andrey Nikolaev, looked a little weary after almost a week accompanying Dionysus over rail, sea and air only for museum staff to finally decide the two-metre tall, 1.5-tonne statue, which can only be moved by the base, was too fragile to part so soon from the wooden crate.

St Petersburg, home of the statue, has no cargo planes, so beginning on November 7, Nikolaev had chaperoned Dionysus by train to Helsinki, then ferry across the Baltic Sea to Travemunde, Germany; another train to Amsterdam; then a Boeing 747 to Frankfurt, Mumbai and Hong Kong; and finally a second Boeing 747, arriving in Sydney on November 13. Having sat in the crate for a day or two to acclimatise on the Australian Museum’s exhibition floor, Dionysus – joined on his plinth in the 18th century by a smaller marble statue bearing a dubious likeness of Persephone or Cora, wife of the ruler of the underworld – met with approval when workers drilled away the wooden crate screws and removed the door.

Why was this god of the grape so important to Alexander the Great? ”Because Dionysus is not just the god of wine, he also is a god of inspiration,” said Anna Trofimova, the head of classical antiquities at The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. ”He was the god, the Greeks believe, that brought culture to different peoples in a lot of countries.”

More to the point, Dionysus was the ”guiding star” for Alexander, who in turn brought civilisation, founded cities and spread Greek language and art from the Mediterranean to Central Asia and India. Alexander was the ”first political leader who thought on the scale of the planet”.

Whether Alexander’s death at the age of 32 was due to fever or poisoning is open to conjecture, but Dr Trofimova is certain of Alexander’s legacy.

”The dream of Alexander, and I believe in it, was unity of mankind between east and western people. His belief in civilisation, this is a great lesson for us; especially important in our days when west and east are very, very sensitive.”

… the original article has an interesting little video where you can watch the workers trying to figure out how best to unpack the thing …

Alexandria’s Canopic Road Aligned to Alexander’s Birthday?

An excerpt from a LiveScience piece:

[...] Ancient Alexandria was planned around a main east-west thoroughfare called Canopic Road, said Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Politecnico of Milan. A study of the ancient route reveals it is not laid out according to topography; for example, it doesn’t run quite parallel to the coastline. But on the birthday of Alexander the Great, the rising sun of the fourth century rose “in almost perfect alignment with the road,” Magli said.

The results, he added, could help researchers in the hunt for the elusive tomb of Alexander. Ancient texts hold that the king’s body was placed in a gold casket in a gold sarcophagus, later replaced with glass. The tomb, located somewhere in Alexandria, has been lost for nearly 2,000 years. [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Building by the stars

Magli and his colleague Luisa Ferro used computer software to simulate the sun’s position in the fourth century B.C. (Because Earth’s orbit isn’t perfect, there is some variation in the sun’s path through the sky over centuries.) Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 B.C. by the Julian calendar, which is slightly different than the modern, Gregorian calendar, because it does not have leap years to account for partial days in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. On that day in the fourth century B.C., the researchers found, the sun rose at a spot less than half a degree off of the road’s route.

“With a slight displacement of the day, the phenomenon is still enjoyable in our times,” Magli told LiveScience.

A second star would have added to the effect, Magli said. The “King’s Star” Regulus, which is found on the head of the lion in the constellation Leo, also rose in near-perfect alignment with Canopic Road and became visible after a period of conjunction with the sun near July 20. Earth’s orbit has changed enough that this Regulus phenomenon no longer happens, Magli said. [...]

… I wonder how they account for the half-degree-out-of-alignment; must look into this further …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): this appears to be the original paper the article is based on (pdf) … that link doesn’t appear to want to work, though, so cut and paste this into your address bar:

Bulgarian Coin Hoard

From Novinite … sounds like one we’ll be hearing more about (hopefully):

A team of Bulgarian archaeologists has found a coin treasure from the 3rd century BC near the southeastern-most Bulgarian Black Sea village of Sinemorets.

The coin treasure was discovered by the team of Prof. Daniela Agre excavating archaeological sites in the region in a ceramic vessel.

“We are now working, cleaning around the vessel. Once we lift it, we will be able to say how many are there. This is a treasure consisting of silver coins, a large one,” she told the Focus news agency.

Prof. Agre explained the vessel containing the coins was found buried next to a tower of the fortified home of an Ancient Thracian ruler that has been known to the Bulgarian archaeologists since 2006.

The archaeologist pointed out that there are only a few cases in which coin treasures of such scope have been found during excavations in Bulgaria.

She believes the coins in question were most likely minted by Alexander the Great or his officer and successor Lysimachus. Agre promised to provide more information later.

… if you’re keeping score of who finds what in Bulgaria, Dr Agre is the archaeologist who found that chariot burial a couple of years ago (Chariot Burial (and more) from Borissovo)

Death of Alexander Redux Redux Redux

With West Nile being back in the news (as it is around here, anyway) it seems inevitable that someone will — once again — suggest a connection between that and the death of Alexander the Great. And so it isn’t surprising to read Did Alexander the Great die from West Nile? in the Mother Nature Network that exact thing. But before this hits the mainstream press, it seems salutary to note that this item is based on a study from almost a decade ago, which we mentioned when rogueclassicism was in its infancy, so I won’t bother repeating (CHATTER: West Nile and Alexander) … we’ll also point to our more recent roundup of all the theories about Al’s death (Puddle Question: What Killed Alexander the Great?). About the current one, however, we will make note of the final line:

Perhaps the history books should finally acquit Aristotle?

via: Did Alexander the Great die from West Nile?

… wow … the last person I recall implicating Aristotle in the death of Alexander was Lyndon LaRouche and it was so long ago, I can’t even remember where or when. Am I incorrect in that? Did I miss a memo?

Alexander Bashing

As I continue to clean my mailbox of assorted items I’d flagged with assorted gmail labels that my iPad does seem to have interpreted correctly, I note a couple of items seeking to tarnish, somewhat, Alexander’s greatness. The first is written by a professor of modern history at St Andrews and was a feature in BBC Magazine a few weeks ago:

The second comes from one of those blogs wherein modern management types seek inspiration in dead guys:

Not sure either one of them is really on point … there are quite a few ‘doth protest too much’ moments and straw men in the BBC piece; the other one is just kind of meh in general. YMMV, FWIW, etc.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii idus junias

ante diem viii idus junias

Alexander routs Persians on one of the long si...

Alexander routs Persians on one of the long sides of the Alexander Sarcophagus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

356 B.C. — birth of Alexander the Great (according to one reckoning)

17 B.C.. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 1)

86 A.D. ludi Capitolini (day 1)

204 A.D. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 3)

Citanda: The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander

I don’t think we mentioned that, subsequent to all the news coverage about the possible poisoning of Alexander, Adrienne Mayor’s ‘working paper’ on the subject became available at the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics site:

Here’s the abstract:

Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus, Justin, and other ancient historians report that rumors of
poisoning arose after the death of Alexander in Babylon in 323 BC. Alexander’s close
friends suspected a legendary poison gathered from the River Styx in Arcadia, so
corrosive that only the hoof of a horse could contain it. It’s impossible to know the real
cause of Alexander’s death, but a recent toxicological discovery may help explain why
some ancient observers believed that Alexander was murdered with Styx poison. We
propose that the river harbored a killer bacterium that can occur on limestone rock
deposits. This paper elaborates on our Poster presentation, Toxicological History Room,
XII International Congress of Toxicology, Barcelona, 19-23 July 2010, and Society of
Toxicology Annual Meeting, Washington DC, March 2011.

Puddle Question: What Killed Alexander the Great?

Alexander the Great
Image by brewbooks via Flickr

Those who teach grade-school level math or science are familiar with the concept of a ‘puddle question’. These are usually word problems of some sort which have more than one possible answer. From a teacher point of view, they are designed to assess how a student approaches a problem, comes up with a plan, then solves the problem. They tend to be ‘strange’ things in a math class like “How many raindrops make up a puddle?” (whence comes the name of this type of question) or “How many hours have you spent watching TV your entire life?” In Ancient History, we also have puddle questions, although not known by that name, and possibly the most common/famous one relates to “solving” why Alexander the Great died. Today, Discovery News presents a completely new theory, related to a bacterium from the Styx. Here are some excerpts:

An extraordinarily toxic bacterium harbored by the “infernal” Styx River might have been the fabled poison rumored to have killed Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) more than 2,000 years ago, according to a scientific-meets-mythic detective study.


“Indeed, no ancient writer ever casts doubt on the existence of a deadly poison from the Styx River,” Mayor, author of the Mithradates biography “The Poison King,” said.

The researchers believe this mythic poison must be calicheamicin. “This is an extremely toxic, gram-positive soil bacterium and has only recently come to the attention of modern science. It was discovered in the 1980s in caliche, crusty deposits of calcium carbonate that form on limestone and is common in Greece,” author Antoinette Hayes, toxicologist at Pfizer Research, told Discovery News.

Now called Mavroneri, “Black Water,” the Styx originates in the high mountains of Achaia, Greece. Its cold waters cascade over a limestone crag to form the second highest waterfall in Greece.

“Unfortunately, the geochemistry of the river has not yet been studied by modern scientists; therefore, there is no scientific data to support the plausible and interesting calicheamicin theory,” Walter D’Alessandro, hydro-geochemist at the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Palermo, told Discovery News.

Whether Alexander really died from poisoning, as some of his closest friends believed, is pure speculation, Mayor and Hayes concede.

“We are not claiming that this was the poison that killed Alexander, nor we are arguing for or against a poison plot,” Mayor said.


Retrodiagnoses for his mysterious death have included poisoning, heavy drinking, septicemia, pancreatitis, malaria, West Nile fever, typhoid, and accidental or deliberate poisoning (hellebore, arsenic, aconite, strychnine).

“Notably, some of Alexander’s symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx. He even lost his voice, like the gods who fell into a coma-like state after drinking from the river,” Mayor said.

The poisoning diagnoses were rejected by many experts because few poisons induce fever. Furthermore, even fewer such poisons were available in Alexander’s time.

However, naturally occurring calicheamicin, which is extremely cytotoxic, could still be the culprit.

“Cytotoxins cause cell death and induce high fever, chills, and severe muscle and neurological pain. Therefore, this toxin could have caused the fever and pain that Alexander suffered,” Hayes said.

According to Richard Stoneman, the foremost expert on the myths of Alexander, the theory offers a good explanation for the Styx’s ancient reputation.

“I personally think that Alexander probably died of natural causes — either typhoid or an overdose of the hellebore used to treat his illness — but other views are possible,” Stoneman, author of “A Life in Legend: Alexander the Great,” told Discovery News.

via: Alexander the Great Killed by Toxic Bacteria?

Back in December of 2004, when West Nile Virus was being suggested as a possible cause of Alexander’s death, I said I would present a summary of the various theories ‘after Christmas’. I don’t appear to have actually ever done that but, fortunately for me, in the mean time an incredibly excellent article on the subject has appear in the January issue of Acta Classica and it’s online at the Free Library:

In brief, it presents Alexander’s symptoms, provides a timeline of what happened when according to the ancient sources, and then has an incredibly useful appendix of all the proposed causes of death and their merits or lack thereof. Just to give you an idea of the things that have been proposed:

  • malaria
  • alcohol-related problems (this one seems to be the most popular current belief, to judge from some Twitter reactions to the article; recent movies probably contribute to this view)
  • typhoid fever
  • West Nile Virus/encephalitis
  • Schistosomiasis
  • some water-bourne illness leading to pneumonia

Whatever the case,  both the Discovery article and the Acta Classica one are must reading …

Linothorax from Pompeii?

Twice in the past I have tried to blog about a project involving Linothorax, and twice the post has vanished into the ether. Hopefully, the third time’s a charm. Anyhoo, Linothorax is not some gruff, activisitic Dr Suess character … it’s a type of armour made from linen which was supposedly light and very strong. It first hit the mainstream press back in January, when the APA/AIA shindig was in the news and some of the ANI coverage hasn’t expired yet:

Alexander the Great’s body armor was made of layers of linen laminated together, according to a new research.

Experts suggest that the conqueror’s soldiers also wore similar attires.

The reconstructive archaeology research hints that the Kevlar-like arurs must have been instrumental in Alexander’s success in conquering nearly the entirety of the known world in little more than two decades.

“While we know quite a lot about ancient armour made from metal, linothorax remains something of a mystery since no examples have survived, due to the perishable nature of the material,” the Discovery News quoted Gregory Aldrete, professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, as saying.

He added: “Nevertheless, we have managed to show that this linen armour thrived as a form of body protection for nearly 1,000 years, and was used by a wide variety of ancient Mediterranean civilizations.

“Currently we have 27 descriptions by 18 different ancient authors and nearly 700 visual images on objects ranging from Greek vases to Etruscan temple reliefs.”

According to researchers, the most reliable proof of Macedonian king wearing linothorax is the famous “Alexander Mosaic” from Pompeii.

Aldrete said: “When Alexander was in India, and received 25,000 new suits of armour for his army, he is described as having ordered the old worn-out suits of armour to be burned. This would only make sense if they had been made of fabric rather than metal.”

As part of the research, Aldrede and co-investigator Scott Bartell even developed several complete sets of linen armour to determine its durability and effectiveness.

Aldrete briefed: “The hardest part of the project was finding truly authentic linen. It had to be made from flax plants that were grown, harvested and processed, spun and woven by hand.”

He further revealed that they used glue made from the skins of rabbits and another from flax seeds to stick the layers of linen together.

Aldrete said: “Our controlled experiments basically dispelled the myth that armour made out of cloth must have been inferior to other available types.

“Indeed, the laminated layers function like an ancient version of modern Kevlar armour, using the flexibility of the fabric to disperse the force of the incoming arrow.”

via: Alexander wore ‘linothorax’ – armor made from laminated linen | Newstrack

See also:


Even prior to the paper (in 2008), there was a very interesting video on YouTube of students from UWGB experimenting with linothorax:

Back in March, another Youtube video appeared, with an excerpt of a talk by Dr Aldrete:

The abstract of Dr. Aldrete and Dr. Bartell’s talk at the APA is also available (as a .doc). In addition, UWGB Linothorax group has an interesting web page on their efforts …

Now the reason I’m persisting in trying to post about this is because the folks over at the very excellent Blogging Pompeii blog have alerted us to a very interesting article in Corriere del Mezzogiorno:

from corriere del mezzogiorno

Lo sapevate che il filato di ginestra ritrovato negli scavi di Pompei ha una tale resistenza da poter essere paragonato ai nuovi filati che vengono usati per i giubbotti antiproiettile? Eppure è così. Il professor Apicella, all’ ottavo forum internazionale di studi «Le vie dei mercanti» (si è aperto giovedì 3 a Napoli nel complesso della facoltà di medicina della Sun nel complesso di Santa Patrizia, accanto all’ospedale degli incurabili e prosegue il 4 e il 5 a Capri) ha presentato una relazione nella quale ha coniugato l’innovazione tecnologica con la ricerca archeologica. Il professore Apicella e la professoressa Luisa Melillo hanno trovato dei filamenti che scavando nelle fonti hanno scoperto che era sottilissimo e molto duttile, ma che aveva tanta resistenza da poter fronteggiare anche la carica dei cinghiali.

«Si pensava ad un errore di traduzione o di trascrizione – ha detto Apicella – poi si è scoperto che il lino di Cuma aveva queste caratteristiche e ancor di più il filato di ginestra che è più duttile, ma ugualmente resistente, dei filati usati per i giubbotti antiproiettile».

via: Dall’antica Pompei un tessuto resistente quanto un giubbotto antiproiettile – Corriere del Mezzogiorno

The article continues from there to yak about stuff not related to this … something seems to have been cut off. In brief, what is mentioned is the discovery of fabric/filaments which, although pliable, were akin to modern-day flak jackets in terms of resistance to projectiles. They refer to it as ‘linen from Cuma’ … i.e. it’s linen, and seems to have armour-like qualities. Is this a survival of a piece of linothorax?

UPDATE (the next day): I’ve finally tracked down the ‘linen from Cuma’ reference in Pliny (why am I having such difficulties finding things in Pliny lately?). In Book 19 we read (in translation):

via Google Books

… which really leaves me scratching the old noggin, insofar as the fabric shown in the photo that accompanied the original article (it might have disappeared by now) was clearly not a piece of a net. If we’re talking about the fibres that made up ‘linen from Cuma’ being strong, that seems fine, but it does appear that something has disappeared from this article, clarification-wise. Still wondering about linothorax possibilities … it would be nice to know the context in which this fabric was found.

Alexander the Great’s Tunnel?

Interesting question over at Ask MetaFilter:

I can’t find much info about it online, the only information I can find is that he supposedly tunneled through Rosh Hanikra after having conquered Tyre, and the tunnel was large enough for him to march his entire army through.

But why is it that can no one find the tunnel? Rosh Hanikra’s site isn’t that sprawling, so wouldn’t there be some sign of it? There were apparently three tunnels that were dug centuries (and millennia later,) but if there was already an existing tunnel, why would anyone need to make new ones? (I’m obviously missing something here– could Alexander’s tunnel have filled up with debris or eroded into nothingness?)

Also where was this event first referenced as having happened?

via Alexander the Great’s lost tunnel | Ask MetaFilter.

… a couple of the responses at MetaFilter suggest they’ve never heard of this purported tunnel, and I haven’t either; links to assorted websites mentioned aren’t really useful either. Have any of rogueclassicism’s learned readers heard of this thing?

The Little Mermaid — The Greek Version

DSC00545, Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark....
Image by lyng883 via Flickr

Folks might be aware that the ‘Little Mermaid’ from Copenhagen’s harbour is temporarily residing at the Shanghai World Expo. Some press coverage includes this little tidbit:

“Different cultures have different interpretations of the Mermaid. We have another story of the Mermaid,” said Flora Kotzia, a visitor from Greece.

According to the Greek story, the Mermaid was the sister of Alexander the Great. She was broken-hearted when Alexander died and killed herself by throwing herself into the sea. The gods pitied her and give her life again, but made her half woman and half fish. So she lived in the water and since then she had searched for her brother, asking the crews of passing ships, “Have you seen Alexander the Great?”

via The Little Mermaid — To travel is to live | Xinhua.

Hellenistic Coin Hoard from Syria

Interesting item from the Global Arab Network:

Global Arab Network photo

A collection of Hellenistic coins dating back to the era of Alexander the Great were found near Najm Castle in the Manbej area in Aleppo governorate (northern Syria ).

The coins were found by a local man as he was preparing his land for construction, uncovering a bronze box that contained around 250 coins. He promptly delivered the coins to the authorities who in turn delivered them to Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum.

Director of archaeological excavations at Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum Yousef Kanjo said the box contained two groups of silver Hellenistic coins: 137 tetra drachma (four drachmas) coins and 115 drachma coins.

One side of the tetra drachma coins depicts Alexander the Great, while the other side depicts the Greek god Zeus sitting on a throne with an eagle on his outstretched right arm. 34 of these coins bear the inscription “King Alexander” in Greek, while 81 coins bear the inscription “Alexander” and 22 coins bear “King Phillip.”

The drachma coins bear the same images as the tetra drachma, with “Alexander” inscribed on 100 of them and “Philip” on 15 of them.

The story was picked up by the AP service and received quite a bit of coverage elsewhere; the Washington Post item has additional photos:

Bipolar Alexander?

The incipit of a piece in the Telegraph:

Clever children are almost four times more likely to suffer from the condition, which is also known as manic depression.

The latest finding, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, supports a commonly held belief that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with the mental illness.

Famous sufferers include Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson, Alexander The Great, Michelangelo, Picasso, Mozart, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Christopher Columbus.

While it seems that any list of maladies which looks for ‘historical’ sufferers is bound to include either Alexander or Caesar, this notion of a bipolar Alexander is new to me … where did this come from?

via Straight-A schoolchildren at higher risk of bipolar disorder, research claims | Telegraph.