by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Known for his great achievements throughout life, the death of Alexander the Great is just as famous as the man himself.
Considered as one of the greatest military generals the world had ever seen, Alexander the Great established a vast empire that reached from Egypt to India and the Middle East during his short 13-year rule as King of Macedonia.
But how did he die? Alexander’s demise has been the subject of debate for 2,000 years, with many probable causes having been put forward by professional and novice historians alike.
The Death of Alexander the Great
Alexander The Great died in Babylon 323 BC at the age of 32. By official accounts, Alexander most likely died of typhoid or malaria. Historical accounts report that Alexander experienced chills, fatigue, fever, and other typical symptoms of infectious disease in the days leading up to his death.
However, other theories about his death continue to circulate – most notably death from liver disease, poisoning, and new emerging theories that Alexander died from a natural illness.
We Shall Meet In Babylon
Perhaps the reason why such speculation surrounds Alexander’s death and why many are not satisfied with infectious disease theory is because of the prophecy of Calanus.
Calanus was a Hindu Naga Sadhu who travelled with Alexanders’ entourage from Punjab after Alexanders’ return from (partly) conquering the region in 323 BC – just a few months before the Great Kings’ death. Calanus was 73 years old when he set off with Alexander and the trip severely weakened the Yogi.
Preferring to die by his own hands than be disabled by the journey, Calanus asked Alexander to build him a pyre, on which he would burn himself alive in sacrifice. Alexander reluctantly ordered Ptolemy to build a funerary pyre in the town of Sasa, where they were stationed at the time.
Allegedly, as Calanus burned, his last words to Alexander were ‘We shall meet in Babylon’. Alexander was puzzled, as he had no plans to travel Babylon at that time, yet he did actually die there within a year of leaving Sasa.
Dying Alexander, copy of the 2nd century BC sculpture, National Art Museum of Azerbaijan
Dying Alexander, copy of the 2nd century BC sculpture, National Art Museum of Azerbaijan
The Last Days of Alexander the Great
So how did Alexander die in Babylon if he had not intended to go there?
Alexander had not been to Babylon since 331 B.C where he had tasked the Chaldaeans (Sacred Babylonian Astrologers) to rebuild the temple of Etemenanki to appease Marduk, the God of the Babylonians, and win his protection for entering the city.
As far as he knew the temple had not yet been built so he headed to Babylon to oversee new plans to demolish the temple and rebuild a new ziggurat from its foundations.
On his way, a Babylonian astronomer by the name of Belephantes warned that Alexander would be in mortal danger if he entered the city of Babylon. He and the other temple priests tried to dissuade Alexander from entering the city, or at least advised him that at least he must not enter from the west gate and face the setting sun.
This deeply disturbed Alexander, although the final words of Calanus were not yet clear, he had a great admiration of Babylonian astronomers who had successfully predicted his invasion of Mesopotamia and his victory at Gaugamela.
Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus The Great, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes 1796 -1796
Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus The Great, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes 1796 -1796
Despite warnings from dying Yogis and Babylonian astrologers, Alexander pushed on to Babylon. He took the priests advice and entered via the Royal gate facing east, which delayed the journey as the terrain was swampy, but he finally arrived in Babylon and settled into the Royal Palace.
It is there, a few days after his arrival, Alexander falls ill following a prolonged banquet and dies 11 days later on 11th or 13th of June 323 BC. On that day the Chaldaean astrologers simply record – ‘the king died. The clouds made it impossible to observe the skies’.
Allegedly, Alexander’s body did not show signs of deterioration for six days, and was later mummified and sent to Egypt, and his tomb was eventually lost to history.
With Alexander’s tomb still missing centuries later, and historians and doctors relying on vague and scattered accounts to produce a likely diagnosis, it is impossible to determine the exact cause of Alexanders’ death, however theories over his demise remain alive and well…
Join us for part two tomorrow!