Theory: Alexander the Great Alive for 6 Days After 'Death'

Dr. Katherine Hall argues it's history's greatest case of pseudothanatos
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2019 2:43 PM CST
Updated Jan 26, 2019 10:42 AM CST
Alexander the Great.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – The Ancient Greeks took it as a sign that Alexander the Great was a god. A New Zealand researcher says it's actually an important clue into the ruler's demise. Dr. Katherine Hall explains that upon Alexander's death in 323BC, it was recorded that his body went six days without exhibiting signs of decomposition. The leading theories as to what killed him—infection, alcoholism or murder—don't explain that. And Hall, of the University of Otago's Dunedin School of Medicine, thinks she knows what does. The twist? She thinks Alexander wasn't decomposing because he was still alive. Here's her theory: that he contracted the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) from a common infection of the time.

GBS would have cause the "progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis" he was noted as experiencing prior to death. And that death really came six days later than thought, theorizes Hall in an article published in the Ancient History Bulletin. She says that in that era, death was determined by a cessation of breathing, not pulse. The GBS-caused paralysis and reduced oxygen needs would have made his breathing less obvious, notes a press release. The Otago Daily Times reports it's a theory that Hall says was floated once before, in 1978, but was "never seriously taken up by anyone else." She spent six months researching the topic. Says Hall, "His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded." (Go inside the mystery of Alexander the Great's dad.)

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