The Death of Alexander the Great: What-or Who-Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World? By Paul Doherty

Author Doherty appears primarily as a writer of historical fiction. This nonfiction submission to the on-going debates about Alexander of Macedon is refreshing in that is portrays him, with remarkable confidence, as an increasingly paranoid, megalomaniacal tyrant. Its focus, however, is on his death. The answers given pass the test of plausibility, would serve as the basis for another novel, but hardly constitute serious history, the sources being so very far removed from the events and their authors and redactors being all-too-interested in affairs which by their time had become encrusted with layer-upon-layer of mythic signification. Indicative of this fundamental shallowness is the lack of thorough source criticism. How many holographs of Arrian, for instance, and of what provenance? How alike are they? How complete? Which does Doherty prefer? Why?

Still, it's a murder mystery and for many murder mysteries are fun. 9780786713400 This is one of the better books on Alexander's death that I've read simply because Doherty advances a well researched, thought out, and incredibly well argued theory as to what the cause of that death ultimately was. I have to say that the smaller arguments he makes leading to the greater theory are all not only solid, but in many cases more likely than the official interpretations of events.

As Harington said in the sixteenth century, Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason? Why, when it prospers, none dare call it treason.

Historians for millennia have sugar coated Alexander's life and glossed over the fact that more than a million people died as a direct result of his battles alone. Alexander was not a nice person. He conducted numerous purges of his officer corps, the Macedonian nobility, and other groups. He ordered assassinations, executions, and violently killed one of his closest friends in a drinking argument for daring to disagree with him and not back down. Doherty hasn't drank the Kool-Aid and thanks to researchers like him the way that history is viewed is slowly changing. 9780786713400 I personally believe this book to be the best I've read this year, as far as non-fiction is concerned. Well, that statistic isn't helped by the fact that it's only the second one so far, but I still think its influence on my curiosity will ripple as the year progresses, and if time permits, my inclination to explore more of antiquity.

Spoiler ahead - the DOA dives into how Alexander The Great died. And based on an inquisitive eye for detail, the author came to the conclusion that one of his companions Ptolemy (the founder-ish of the Library of Alexandria) had a big part in it. How did he do it? Arsenic poisoning.

I found the latter to be pretty interesting because one of the effects of said poisoning is a delayed decomposition, something that can often be interpreted as divine intervention (It was in Alexander's case). And of course, the other effects that Alexander's seemingly described are also consistent with the first documented study of Arsenic poisoning (I think) conducted in the 1870s.

Lastly, the ending. Goosebumps. Since Ptolemy reigned over Egypt and starting his own 'dynasty', the author reflects how plausible it was that before his death (Gave the throne up to his son), he went down to Alexander's tomb and reflected on the fateful banquet in which Alexander and Ptolemy shared bread and wine and then ends it with a quote from Euripides's Andromache. I'll save that bit for your own surprise. If it doesn't inspire awe into the depth of the research the author conducted, reread it. 9780786713400 I picked this off the bookstore shelf because it was inexpensive and looked like an easy-to-read but generally informative introduction to the circumstances surrounding the death of Alexander. So it was, though the book isn't promoted as an introductory study. Doherty is more interested in offering his particular theory as to who killed A. and how. This gives the read an engaging pull through, and I also liked the generous quotation of primary sources (Plutarch, Diod. S., Arrian, Quin. Curt. and others) throughout the exploration, as it provided a feel for some of the available evidence.

Whether we can take as much at face value from these sources as Doherty would like is open to question - granted, he is duly cautious on many points. Moreover, a well-studied reader will feel dissatisfied with rigour of argument - not that the case presented is implausible, but it does not show convincingly why other figures close to Alexander have less reason and opportunity than Doherty's suspect(s). But this is perhaps criticising the book for failing to be what it never intended to be - taken as a leisurely, intelligent investigation into one possible explanation of the death of the young conqueror, this read gets a tick from me. 9780786713400

In May 323 BC Alexander of Macedonia fell ill in Babylon. Within ten days he was dead.
Yes, and that's why we should be incredibly grateful for things like antibiotics and respirators and doctors who actually know how the human body works.

So Paul Doherty thinks Ptolemy did it. The circumstances surrounding Alexander's death appear to be permeated with a deliberate theatre, full of drama of events being arranged by a stage manager, says Doherty, and who better fits that role than Ptolemy, the companion entrusted with guarding the door to the royal chamber? He thinks Ptolemy mixed arsenic in Alexander's wine.

We can triangulate, so to speak, the time of Alexander's death by looking at one of the only primary sources from his lifetime: the astronomical diaries—a daily account of meteorological phenomena written by officials of the Esagila temple complex in Babylon, as well as corresponding events such as commerce prices, water levels of the Euphrates, etc., all of which were believed to be connected—states that Alexander died on the last day of the second month on the Babylonian calendar. The second month was known as the Araḫ Āru (𒌚𒄞) or month of blossoming, and is roughly equivalent to April/May. The 29th day of Āru spanned the period between the evening of 10 June and the evening of 11 June 323 BCE. The tablet upon which the week's events were recorded is very damaged, meaning entire days are missing; the week of Alexander's death was also reportedly cloudy, meaning the constellations could not be marked. In fact the only notes on 29 Āru are, The king died. Clouds.

There are two types of entries on the astronomical tablets: those which begin with describing the night, and those which do not. In the first instance the entry will begin in the evening and continue through the next day; in the second, only observations during daylight hours are recorded. The entry made on the day of Alexander's death is of the latter, meaning that it's almost certain Alexander died on 11 June, sometime between morning (normal waking hours) and evening (normal resting hours). Straying further into conjecture, it can also be assumed that Alexander died between 15 and 18 hours; this is according to Plutarch (VII.76.9-77.1), who claims that the Macedonian Royal Diaries reported Alexander's death πρὸς δείλην (towards afternoon, evening). The word δείλη is sometimes translated to mean evening, but refers more specifically to the 9th and 10th hours of the Babylonian day.¹ However, Plutarch also claims that Alexander died on the 28th day of the month²:
VII.76.9 τῇ δὲ τρίτῃ φθίνοντος πρὸς δείλην ἀπέθανε.
here / then / third / waning / towards / evening / died.
And on the twenty-eighth,​ towards evening, he died.
VII.77.1 τούτων τὰ πλεῖστα κατὰ λέξιν ἐν ταῖς ἐφημερίσιν οὕτω γέγραπται.
this / the / most of / according to / text / in / the / records / thus / written.
Most of this account is word for word as written in the Journals.
After this, Plutarch goes on to say that there was no suspicion of poisoning until several years later, and that he himself doesn't believe any of the rumours. Anyway, we know within a pretty small timeframe when Alexander died, but how?

Yeah, that's where everything falls apart: no one knows. There was no autopsy, and the scientific knowledge of the day was simply not at a level where cause of death could be reliably determined if it weren't as straightforward as, say, decapitation. Realistically, the data suggest either malaria or typhoid fever, both of which were common in ancient Babylon. Historical accounts reliably mention symptoms associated with both diseases, with a slight bias towards the latter; he also probably contracted pneumonia and/or influenza, and it's likely that his alcoholism did little to increase the fortitude of his liver. The effects of arsenic poisoning are not conducive with the recorded symptoms Alexander experienced. One study published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology proposed Veratrum album (white hellebore) poisoning, but even that has little data to support it. There is simply no reliable evidence that Alexander was murdered. Prior to the advent of antibiotics and antiseptics, common diseases could decimate entire populations simply because there was no cure and no known stopgap. As unrealistic as it might seem to us today that an otherwise healthy man in his early 30s³ would be struck down by something so easily combatable as a Salmonella bacterium, such things were death sentences throughout the vast majority of human history. We should be very, very grateful for modern medicine.

TL;DR It's not that deep, bro.

1 It's worth noting that there is a possibility that Alexander died on 10 June before the 10th hour of the day (the equivalent of 18 hours), and the astronomer who recorded his death only heard the news after sunrise on 11 June. However, this is less likely, given that the astronomer would have had to work through the night hours, and would almost certainly have been informed of Alexander's death as soon as humanly possible, since the religious temple would have said prayers for the dead king.
2 English translations taken from Bernadotte Perrin's translation of Plutarch.
3 Alexander was 32 when he died, not 33, as Doherty incorrectly posits. 9780786713400


Paul Doherty provides a fairly enjoyable take on the events leading up the last day’s of the famous conqueror, steadily pushing forward his preferred “conspiracy” theory. However, the book is a bit too disorganized and builds towards a conclusion that, while convincingly possible and perhaps even probable, does not feel like it was earned by all of what came before.

9780786713400 it provides a brief history on Alexander the Great. It talks more about the suddden death of Alexander than how he conquered the Persian empire. Still, a wonderful read for first timer like me. 9780786713400 I expected a lot more form this book, not that it was so bad, but I found it very difficult to read, and a bit boring.. I prefer Manfredi's ''Alexandros'' cycle because after studying Alexander's life, he wrote the biography in a form of a novel still sticking with the facts and I found it much more amusing 9780786713400

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In 5/323 BCE Alexander of Macedonia fell ill in Babylon. Within ten days he was dead. A military genius who raged thru the Persian empire, Alexander believed he was the son of God, with a desire for everlasting glory & an urge to march & conquer the world. The Death of Alexander the Great critically analyzes this extraordinary conqueror who achieved so much before he died at the age of 33. Alexander was a man who wanted to be a God, a Greek who wanted to be a Persian, a defender of liberties who spent most of his life taking away the liberties of others, & a king who could be compassionate to the lowliest yet ruthlessly wipe out an ancient city like Tyre & crucify 3000 of its defenders. Doherty scrutinizes the circumstances surrounding Alexander's death as he lay sweating beside a swimming pool in the summer palace of the Persian kings. Did Alexander die of alcoholism, a hideous bout of malaria or were other factors involved? Alexander had been warned not to enter Babylon, so he surrounded himself with outstanding captains of war. This book is a dramatic reassessment of the leader's mysterious final days. The Death of Alexander the Great: What-or Who-Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World?