Alexander the Great poisoned by deadly river bug

Last Updated: Wed, Aug 04, 2010 10:40 hrs

A deadly river bacterium found in river Styx, Greece, killed Alexander the Great, rather than a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon.

Alexander fell ill during such a party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq.

He complained of a 'sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver' and had to be taken to bed, where over the next 12 days he developed a high fever and excruciating pains to his joints, says a Telegraph report from the US.

His condition worsened, he fell into a coma, and is believed to have died June 10-11, 323 BC - just shy of his 33rd birthday.

Earlier, historians speculated that Alexander's death was brought about by heavy drinking, typhoid, malaria, acute pancreatitis, West Nile fever or poisoning - either accidental or deliberate.

However, Stanford University experts have reasons to believe instead that he may have died from calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by the bacterium.

'It is extremely toxic,' said Antoinette Hayes, co-author of the Stanford research paper and a toxicologist at Pfizer Research in the US.

Stanford researchers believe the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swaths of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the Styx, says a Telegraph report from the U.S.

The ancient Greeks maintained that Styx waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules.

The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

'Notably, some of Alexander's symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx.