The Loh Down On Science

What important historical event happened in 323 BC?

National Archaeological Museum, Naples

Alexander and his horse Bucephalus in battle. Detail from "The Mosaic of Alexander," circa 100 BC.

Was Alexander the Great killed with moonshine?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the ancient world before he was 30.  

Unfortunately, two years later, something unknown conquered him.  In 323 BC, Alexander died, after days of torturous illness!

Many say he was poisoned.  Trouble is, historical accounts were all written centuries after his death.  Those authors used material from Alexander’s court, but it was likely distorted with propaganda.

How, then, to find the truth?

Enter New Zealand toxicologist Leo Schep.  He compiled details about Alexander’s final days.  He compared those to poisoning theories in scholarly articles about Alexander’s death.

Schep says most poisons theorized don’t produce the symptoms described in Alexander’s final days.  But one Plant does:  The flowering white hellebore.  What’s more, it can be fermented into wine. In fact, it commonly was in Alexander’s time.  Because in small, medicinal doses, it induces vomiting.

Schep thinks someone spiked Alexander’s wine with a lethal dose of white hellebore.

Either that or he died by candlestick!  Colonel Mustard.  In the library.  It's a working theory.  

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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