Tantalizing Tunnels From Niksar

Another rather annoying item from Hurriyet:

Two secret tunnels have been discovered under Turkey’s second largest castle, in the northern province of Tokat’s Niksar district. The tunnels date back to the Roman period, and it has been claimed that one of the tunnels was used by a Roman king’s daughters in order to go to the bath in the Çanakçi stream area.

The excavations are being carried out by the municipality in the 6.2 kilometer-wide Niksar Castle, which is Turkey’s second largest castle after Diyarbakır Castle. The tunnels are located in the southern and northern facades of the castle and are approximately 100 meters long.

The earth masses in the tunnels have been removed, but work was subsequently halted as permission for the excavations expired and the number of staff was insufficient.

The 100 meter tunnel in the northern façade is said to have been used by the king’s daughters to reach the Roman bath near the castle. Niksar Mayor Duran Yadigar, who has inspected both tunnels, said works in the castle unearthed the entrance of the tunnels. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” Yadigar said.

Yadigar added that once these structures are completely revealed, the castle will make a great contribution to cultural tourism in the region. “We expect the Culture and Tourism Ministry to be interested in the Niksar Castle.

A quarter of the castle’s western section has been restored. Once it is completely restored, this place could be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and we could present the value of the Black Sea region to the world. I ask the relevant officials to show an interest in these tunnels,” Yadigar said.
Halis Şahin of the Tokat Museum, who provided information about the excavations, said works to reveal the Roman era tunnels would continue throughout the year.

Of course, the “Roman king’s daughters” thing is a bunch of hooey … in Roman times, Niksar was called Neocaesarea and it’s one of those cities that changed ownership several times over several millennia. I’m not sure if the photo accompanying the original article is of one or the other of the tunnels in question, but I see nothing that identifies it as Roman. Curious to know why this is identified as Roman, other than the story makes for good tourist fodder …

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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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