Did Toxic Wine Kill Alexander the Great?

Scientists 'find plant behind ancient leader's agonizing death over 12 days'

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Alexander the Great built a legendary empire before his untimely – and mysterious – death at the age of just 32 in 323 BC.

Some historians argued was death was due to natural causes, while others maintained he was secretly murdered at a celebratory banquet.

Now, an Otago University scientist may have unraveled the case some 2000 years later.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep thinks the culprit could be poisonous wine made from an innocuous-looking plant, according to a report in  the New Zealand Herald.

Dr Schep, who has been researching the toxicological evidence for a decade, said some of the poisoning theories – including arsenic and strychnine – were not plausible.

Death would have come far too fast, he said.

His research, co-authored by Otago University classics expert Dr Pat Wheatley and published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology, found the most plausible culprit was Veratrum album, known as white hellebore.

The white-flowered plant, which can be fermented into a poisonous wine, was well-known to the Greeks as a herbal treatment for inducing vomiting. 

Crucially, it could have accounted for the 12 torturous days that Alexander took to die, speechless and unable to walk.

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