Ancient History: Alexander The Great May Have Actually Been Buried Alive!

Alexander The Great conquered the Mediterranean, Egypt, the Middle East, and parts of Asia in a remarkably short span of time before his unexpected death. The theories surrounding his demise reveal a horrifying fact. He likely wasn’t dead at the time of his burial according to some recent studies.

The shocking death of Alexander the Great has always been the focus of a mystery historians have been eager to solve because he was quite young when he became suddenly ill. Alexander died within a couple weeks ending his very short but spectacular reign as King of Macedon in ancient Greece.

Ancient Greece has some very interesting rulers but Alexander was by far one of the most compelling ones. He led a very fascinating life even before he embarked on his thirteen year reign at the age of twenty. In today’s post I wanted to explore his life and death a bit. There is a lot to unpack and a ton of theories about the man who made such a mark upon history.

“His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded.”

As the son of King Philip II of Macedon, and his fourth wife Olympias, Alexander was destined to be a ruler. He was born in Pella, the capital of Macedon and had many advantageous. Alexander was raised like most noble youths learning to read, play the lyre, ride, fight, and hunt. As a young boy he was even tutored by Aristotle himself until the age of sixteen.

The National Geographic Society notes that the young Alexander was a diligent and interested student throughout his life and reign stating that “When Alexander was a teenager, his father hired Aristotle to be his private tutor. He studied with Aristotle for three years and from Aristotle’s teachings, Alexander developed a love of science, particularly of medicine and botany. Alexander included botanists and scientists in his army to study the lands he conquered.” 

He spent several years studying with Aristotle at Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza, a place that served something similar to a boarding school for children of nobles. At the age of sixteen Alexander returned home at act a regent and heir apparent for his father, who had waged a war on the people of Thracians which took Philip away from Macedon for a period of time.

The next several years Alexander went on campaign with his father and undertook many military expeditions proving he would be a strong leader in the future. Things quickly changed however when Philip married his new wife Cleopatra Eurydice. This left Alexander in a less secure position especially when Cleopatra had two children, a daughter then a son named Caranus. A lot of drama ensues at this time for everyone involved.

Alexander after some trouble at the wedding of his father, flees Macedon with his mother and winds up in Illyria staying as guest for around six month: however, it turns out Philip had no intention of cutting off or disowning his eldest son. Alexander returns to Macedon shorty after some mediation between the two where things return to normal for a bit.

Olympias, Alexander’s mother however takes some seriously murderous action against Philip’s wife Cleopatra by having her children killed off when King Philip is assassinated by the captain of his bodyguards while attending a friends wedding. Upon the death of her two children, Cleopatra commits suicide or may have been murdered herself. Alexander assumes his father’s throne at twenty years old. There is also some theories that Olympias may have even pulled the strings behind Philip’s own murder after he didn’t defend Alexander’s claim as heir after his marriage to Cleopatra.

Now that we have a little background to how Alexander the Great rose to the throne and became King of Macedon. Let’s fast forward twelve or so years. Alexander is now thirty-two and has been very successful in consolidating his power and conquering vast lands for his ever expanding kingdom.

There are numerous theories as to the cause of Alexander’s mysterious death. The explanations range from natural causes such as malaria, typhoid, or even the west Nile virus to the possibility of him being murdered by poisoning during his stay. He suddenly fell ill during the summer month of June in 323 BC while staying at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon.

In one account the story goes that Alexander increasingly become sick with fever and other symptoms to the point where he stopped being able to speak. This is all According to Plutarch, a historian, philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. He wrote:

“On the twenty-fourth his fever was violent and he had to be carried forth to perform his sacrifices; moreover, he ordered his principal officers to tarry in the court of the palace, and the commanders of divisions and companies to spend the night outside. He was carried to the palace on the other side of the river on the twenty-fifth, and got a little sleep, but his fever did not abate. And when his commanders came to his bedside, he was speechless, as he was also on the twenty-sixth

therefore the Macedonians made up their minds that he was dead, and came with loud shouts to the doors of the palace, and threatened his companions until all opposition was broken down; and when the doors had been thrown open to them, without cloak or armour, one by one, they all filed slowly past his couch. During this day, too, Python and Seleucus were sent to the temple of Serapis to enquire whether they should bring Alexander thither; and the god gave answer that they should leave him where he was. And on the twenty-eighth, towards evening, he died.”

Scientist in New Zealand believe they have solved this ongoing mystery. The belief now is that Alexander very likely perished from an autoimmune disease that quickly led to the failing of his body from the inside out. The findings and journals have been published in the Ancient History Bulletin.

At the time of Alexander’s death, medical doctors didn’t use a person’s pulse to determine if they were still indeed alive. Alexander’s breathing would have been very minimal due to his paralysis which is why him still being alive was missed. They just couldn’t see that he was still breathing.

Dr. Kathryn Hall writes, “in addition to high fever and severe abdominal pain, Alexander developed a progressive, symmetrical, increasing paralysis during his many days of illness. Yet he remained mentally lucid to the end. Scientists have determined that his symptoms are consistent with the rare Guillain – Barré syndrome. This is a disease in which the patient’s immune system “attacks” the healthy cells of the nervous system, resulting in gradual paralysis. In many cases, the body is so severely paralyzed that it no longer responds to external stimuli”

The experts who examined him probably believed that he was dead. He was unresponsive, he appeared to be completely unconscious, and he was not breathing. According to the team of New Zealander researcher and scholars, Alexander the Great was buried alive and died of asphyxiation a few days later. This explains the six-day delay in the decomposition of his body.

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