Did Toxic Bacteria Kill Alexander the Great?

According to Greek mythology, the water of the Styx River is toxic (indeed, it's bandied about for ages as one of the things that could've killed Alexander the Great).

But what made the water of Styx so poisonous? A new toxicological study have uncovered the reason:

"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.

And could calicheamicin be the poison that killed Alexander the Great?

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.

Rossella Lorenzi of Discovery News has the full story: Link


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