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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Documentary Sunday – King Tut’s Final Secrets

Tutankhamun, known commonly as King Tut, was the subject that helped me to fall in love with ancient Egypt and it’s rich history and culture.  Today’s documentary is bit bit graphic, but it explores the life of the Boy Pharaoh, who ruled Egypt 3000 years ago from the age of nine and died mysteriously just ten years later in 1327 BC.  Tut’s story is tragic – thrust into leadership of a nation in chaos and in constant pain from a deformed foot that plagued him his entire life – but his is the most studied in Egypt’s past.  Its hard to believe that we know more about his life than any other Pharaoh. His tomb’s discovery by “archaeologist” Howard Carter in 1922 was a sensational discovery that took the world by storm, myself included nearly a century later.  I had the pleasure of viewing Tutankhamun’s treasures in 2007 when they came to the States and the experience literally took my breath away.  I was amazed that one man could have such beautiful treasures surrounding him his entire life and digging deeper, his story struck a chord with me on a level that I still do not fully understand nor can explain.  Which is why this post is so nostalgic for me.

Anyway, please enjoy this week’s Documentary Sunday!

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Posted by on July 26, 2015 in Documentary Sunday

 

Cold Case Examinations – Alexander the Great

In 323 BC, Alexander the Great fell ill following a banquet held in Babylon (modern day Iraq) at his conquered palace.  Ten days later, he was dead just a month short of his thirty-third birthday.  His death has been suspicious for over two thousand years and even the sources of the time differ greatly.  What actually happened to the great king?

Alexander‘s body has not been identified, so it is impossible to know for certain what caused his early death, but here is what we know: in the ten days before he succumbed to death’s embrace, he suffered from agonizing stomach pains, chills, sweats, exhaustion, and a high fever.  According to an ancient source called the Macedonian Royal Diaries, the ailment started as a fever, which he apparently already had ten days before his death. Although Alexander was still drinking wine and eating at this time, he was in a weakened state and as the days went by he grew even weaker and ate less.  When it became clear that he king was dying, his generals gathered at his bedside and prayed, but it was no use.  He breathed his last on the 10th of June.

In 1998, David W. Oldach, an infectious disease expert at the University of Maryland Medical Center, was stated in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated the most likely cause of death to be typhoid fever, which is brought on when someone drinks or comes into contact with contaminated water.  Exploring this possibility, there are similarities to the disease that match Alexander’s symptoms well, however, the problem I see with this is that typhoid fever is highly contagious, so why was no one else affected?  There are no records of anyone else in Alexander’s close circle or his army falling ill, which begs the question of why only the king was affected.

Malaria has also been put forward as a likely cause of death and this is most commonly accepted by historians.  Malaria is an infection caused by a bite from an infected mosquito bite.  The disease was rampant at the time, and has even been stated as having brought down King Tut a thousand years earlier (this is even said to have been the real Curse of the Pharaohs).  It can remain dormant in the body for several weeks after a person is bitten, so if this is the case, Alexander could have already been sick for a long time before he died.  The symptoms fit, but there are holes in the diagnosis.  Does it account for the stomach pains that had him all-but screaming in distress?  Perhaps not.  Severe cases of malaria also include convulsions and gas buildup in the lungs, often leading to cardiac arrest, and these are not mentioned in the Diaries.  And again, why was Alexander the only one affected?  It may not be a contagious disease, but surely there would have been other fatalities among the Macedonian army at the time, and none were reported.

Now comes the drama that everyone seems to jump to in a case like this: murder.  In this case, poison.

The Macedonians were a people prone to violence, much like Alexander himself, so poison seems a bit unlikely to be used as a weapon to kill someone, even a king.  In fact, thirteen years before, Alexander’s father Philip II was assassinated in broad daylight while attending a wedding.  Despite his title of Megas Alexandros (literally The Great Alexander in ancient Greek) the king was not well liked.  Particularly towards the last few years of his reign, he seems to have become increasingly paranoid, executing those he believed to have been plotting against him, including the nephew of his old tutor Aristotle.  After the death of his best friend and lover Hephaestion, his paranoia grew worse and he slipped into a depression.

My belief is that Alexander died due to poisoning, whether accidental or intentional.  If he was poisoned, it certainly was not by use of anything common such as arsenic or cyanide.  The most common suggestion put forward is Hellebore, specifically white hellebore.  Though the root of this plant is highly toxic, it was sometimes used in ancient medicine, often to treat ailments such as depression, gout, epilepsy, tremors, and even demonic possession.  Perhaps Alexander was prescribed white hellebore as a treatment for his own depression following Hephaistion’s death.  What bothers me, however, is that when taking the plant medicinally, patients where strongly cautioned not to drink wine for at least three days leading up to treatment.  As stated earlier, Alexander was drinking in excess just before collapsing with stomach pains.  This leads me to believe that if hellebore was used, it was slipped into his wine at the banquet where he fell ill.  It would not have taken much to affect him.  Maybe he was given even more hellebore in order to cure him and his doctors unknowingly overdosed him.  This is the theory I used for a short story I wrote in college for a historical project called Killing Alexander.  

Whatever the case may be, Alexander the Great died in Babylon on 10 June 323 BC and his lengthy empire, which stretched thousands of miles from Europe deep into Asia, was split into pieces.  The king had left no heirs, only his pregnant wife Roxana and an unstable half brother named Philip Arrhidaeus.  When at last Roxana gave birth to a son, Alexander was already cold in his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt, where his general Ptolemy has buried him and established a dynasty in Egypt that would later end with Cleopatra.  Philip Arrhidaeus was murdered on orders of Alexander’s power-hungry mother Olympias, who was later executed, and before he could exercise full power over the empire, Alexander’s son was murdered by another of his father’s generals, Cassander, along with Roxana.  This time period is called the War of the Successors, which resulted in the vast territory being cut into pieces as the generals fought each other for full control over a former empire that would later be overtaken by Rome.  Alexander’s tomb became a popular destination for pilgrims who sought to kneel at his coffin and pray, including Octavian Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome.  Later, the tomb was lost and part of the city of Alexandra was lost to the sea, leaving no trace of the last resting place of the man once known as the greatest conqueror in the ancient world.

 
 

1536 – Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Dies

Henry VIII’s eldest son, conceived through his mistress Elizabeth Blount, was born 15 June 1519, and was a godsend to the King, whom at the time had no living sons to become his heir.  FitzRoy was given the education of a prince and title and money despite his illegitimacy and soon became the wealthiest man in England behind the King himself.  Henry VIII was even rumored to have plans to make his son Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (making him King of Ireland in all but name), but the boy grew ill and died of tuberculosis on 23 July at the age of seventeen, leaving the king devastated.  It is said that if Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour had not given birth to the future Edward VI and FitzRoy had lived, the boy would have gone on to rule England as Henry IX.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in British Royalty, The Tudors

 

Happy Birthday to Alexander the Great

In 356 BC, Alexander III of Macedon was born to the Macedonian King Philip II and his fourth wife, Olympias, whom he would later grow to hate.  The date is listed as the “sixth day of the month of Hekatombaion” on the ancient Greek calendar, which by consensus corresponds to either the 20th of 21st of July.  He was the eldest son, who took the throne of Macedon after Philip’s assassination in 336 BC, when he was barely twenty years old.  He would go one to rule an empire stretching over 3000 miles during his thirteen year rule, becoming known as Megas Alexandros in his native tongue (which directly translates into The Great Alexander) and becoming king of Asia, Persia, and Pharaoh of Egypt all in one, even earning the title of “Living God” in Egyptian.  He had the world at his feet when he died of a mysterious illness at the age of thirty-two in 323 BC at his favorite palace in Babylon and was buried in his Egyptian capitol of Alexandria, although his tomb and body have not been identified.

I never was able to finish my article on Alexander last year, but my intention is to post the one I am working on – another Cold Case Examination similar to the one I did on The Princes in the Tower – within the coming weeks.  This will explore the many theories surrounding his death from murder to medical errors and will be the first full length article I have posted here in awhile.  Until then, I pay tribute to the ancient king.  Cheers to you, Alexander!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Documentary Sunday – Death Masks

 

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Documentary Sunday

 

Documentary Sunday – Roman Emperor Caligula

Ancients Behaving Badly is as entertaining as it is accurate.  I love this show and today, I’m going to share it with you, dear readers.  I hope you enjoy it!

PLEASE BE WARNED: IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH, PROCEED WITH CAUTION

 
 

Independence Day – 4 July 1776

It is a day Americans know well, but today we celebrate our nation’s separation from the British Empire with alcohol, barbecues, and fireworks.  Very few take the time to remember the struggles of our Founding Fathers over two centuries ago.

When King George III refused to acknowledge the many grievances of the American colonists, they declared themselves to be separate from the British Empire in a document known as The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America, known commonly today as the Declaration of Independence.  (You can see the original name on the document copy below)  Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the youngest of the delegates of the Continental Congress, and edited with the help of John Adams and Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the final draft was adopted by Congress on the Second of July and formally signed by all members during the summer, not on one day as is commonly thought.  Months prior in January 1776, when it became clear that there was no way for the Americans to peacefully negotiate with the King, John Adams, a lawyer from Massachusetts and cousin to Patriot Samuel Adams, persuaded Congress to have his friend and fellow delegate Thomas Jefferson, a planter from Virginia, write the first draft since he knew the younger man to have a great way with words.  It took several tiring and stressful weeks, but soon, the document was completed and unanimously agreed upon by all delegates of all 13 states.  This is seen as the defining moment of the American Revolution, though the war itself did not end until 1778.

The real Independence Day is in fact July Second, however the date instead commemorates the date on which the Declaration’s existence was made public.