It’s a summer’s day in the year 323 B.C. and the scene is the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq. One of history’s most intriguing figures, Alexander the Great, is confined to his sickbed. His symptoms baffle his attendants, but he appears to be seriously ill. In fact, days after falling sick, Alexander is dead at the age of 32. And what caused his untimely death has been an unsolved puzzle for more than 2,000 years. But thanks to research by New Zealand doctor Katherine Hall, we may finally have an answer.
There are various accounts of Alexander’s illness and death, but perhaps the two best-known were both penned some four centuries after their subject had died. The two versions agree on many, but not all points. One was penned by Sicilian-born Diodorus Siculus, the other by a Greek, Plutarch. Both accounts agree that the great man’s illness started after a bout of heavy drinking.