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The Painful Final Days of Alexander The Great

Dying, Alexander the Great bids farewell to his army, Carl von Piloty, 1885

Alexander the Great, one of history's most enigmatic figures, met his untimely demise in June 323 B.C. The circumstances surrounding his death have been the subject of speculation and intrigue for centuries. This detailed reconstruction of Alexander's last days provides an in-depth look at the events leading up to his death, drawing from various ancient sources.

Days Before the Poisoning (Before 17 Daesius, May 31, 323 B.C.)

Antipater's Plot: Antipater, a high-ranking Macedonian official, harboured intentions to poison Alexander. This is suggested by Arrian and Justin, who highlight Antipater's motive and fear of Alexander's growing power.

Aristotle's Involvement: The renowned philosopher Aristotle, fearing Alexander's wrath over the execution of his nephew Callisthenes, allegedly provided the poison to Antipater. This is detailed in Arrian's accounts.

Alexander's Return to Babylon: Alexander returned to Babylon and indulged in nightly banquets for several days. Justin mentions these feasts as part of Alexander's routine.

Cassander's Role: Antipater sent his son Cassander to Babylon with specific instructions on how to poison Alexander. The poison was concealed in the hoof of a mule, according to Arrian and Justin.

Cassander's Arrival: Upon reaching Babylon, Cassander presented gifts to Alexander, a gesture noted by the "Life of Alexander" by Callisthenes of Olynthus

The Meeting with Iollas: Cassander met with his brother Iollas, Alexander's wine-pourer, revealing their father's plot. Iollas agreed to participate due to a personal affront he had received from Alexander, as chronicled by Callisthenes, Curtius, and Arrian.

The Banquet Plan: Cassander instructed Medius, a Thessalian and lover of Iollas, to organize a banquet where Iollas could administer the poison. This plan is supported by Justin, Callisthenes, and Arrian.

Day 0: 17 Daesius (May 31, 323 B.C.)

Sacrifices and Divination: Alexander performed customary animal sacrifices and sought divine guidance. Diodorus and Arrian note these rituals.

Distribution of Victims and Wine: Alexander distributed sacrificial victims and wine to his troops, a gesture of camaraderie documented by Arrian.

Evening Banquet with Nearchus: Alexander dined with Nearchus in the evening, as mentioned by Justin and Arrian.

Post-Banquet Bath: Following the banquet, Alexander took his customary bath before bed, a routine noted by Plutarch.

Medius' Invitation: Medius invited Alexander to continue reveling at his house. This invitation and Alexander's acceptance are detailed by Justin, Diodorus, Arrian, and Plutarch.

The Conspirators: The banquet hosted several guests, including Iollas' accomplices. They were fearful of Alexander's increasing power and had previously discussed his assassination, according to the pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian.

The Poisoned Cup: Iollas, tasked with preparing Alexander's wine, added the poison to the drink. This act is chronicled by Curtius, Diodorus, and Arrian.

Alexander Drinks the Poison: Alexander reclined at the banquet as Iollas handed him the poisoned cup. He drank it, and after a brief conversation, he cried out in pain as if struck by an arrow in his abdomen. This dramatic moment is recounted by the pseudo-Callisthenes, Diodorus, and Arrian.

Immediate Aftermath: Suffering from intense pain, Alexander retired to his room, experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting and taking another bath. The pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian detail these events.

Return to the Banquet: Despite the pain, Alexander returned to the banquet, urging his friends to continue drinking. This resilience is noted by Arrian.

Guests' Departure: The conspirators, guilt-ridden and fearful, left the banquet early. The pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian describe their anxiety.

Vomiting Attempt: Alexander, feeling unwell, requested a feather to induce vomiting, a method he occasionally used. The pseudo-Callisthenes notes this attempt.

Increasing Pain: Unable to find relief, Alexander's pain intensified, and he was carried back to his apartments by his friends, half-dead and in excruciating agony. Diodorus and Justin detail this harrowing experience.

Night of Suffering: Alexander spent the night in great discomfort and acute suffering, with his physicians unable to alleviate his pain. The pseudo-Callisthenes and Diodorus provide insights into this night.

Cassander's Departure: Cassander, after conferring with his brother, left Babylon, waiting in the Cilician Mountains for news of Alexander's death. The pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian discuss Cassander's strategic retreat.

Report to Antipater: Cassander sent a letter to his father Antipater, cryptically confirming the successful execution of their plan. The pseudo-Callisthenes notes the content of this message.

Day 1: 18 Daesius (June 1, 323 B.C.)

Morning Meeting: At dawn, Alexander sought counsel with his friends but was unable to make a testament due to paralysis of his tongue. He ordered everyone to leave his bedroom to make his own decisions. This event is recorded by the pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian.

Evening Banquet: Feeling better, Alexander supped and drank at Medius' house until late into the night, as mentioned by Arrian.

Drinking Contest: During the dinner, Alexander engaged in a drinking contest, pledging the health of everyone and accepting numerous toasts. Arrian and Athenaeus (At) provide details of this event.

Bowl of Heracles: Alexander called for a six-quart cup, known as the bowl of Heracles, and drank bravely. However, he soon collapsed back on his cushion, unable to finish the drink. Athenaeus, Diodorus, and Plutarch recount this incident.

Bath and Sleep: After the drinking party, Alexander took a bath, ate a little food, and slept there, already feeling feverish. Athenaeus, Arrian, and Plutarch describe his condition.

Day 2: 19 Daesius (June 2, 323 B.C.)

Morning Rituals: Alexander took another bath and offered the customary animal sacrifices, as noted by Arrian and Plutarch.

Dice Game with Medius: Alexander spent the day playing dice with Medius in his bed-chamber, a detail provided by Arrian and Plutarch.

Meeting with Officers: Alexander ordered his officers to meet him at daybreak, as documented by Arrian.

Evening Routine: Late in the evening, Alexander performed his sacrifices, ate supper, and was conveyed to bed. The fever raged throughout the night. Arrian and Plutarch detail his worsening condition.

Day 3: 20 Daesius (June 3, 323 B.C.)

Morning Sacrifice: Alexander took a bath and offered his customary sacrifices, as recorded by Arrian and Plutarch.

Orders for the Voyage: He gave orders to Nearchus and other officers to prepare for the upcoming voyage. Arrian notes these instructions.

Conversation with Nearchus: Alexander listened to Nearchus recount his voyage and the wonders of the sea. Plutarch provides details of this conversation.

Day 4: 21 Daesius (June 4, 323 B.C.)

Morning Sacrifice: Alexander bathed and offered sacrifices, continuing his daily routine despite his fever, as mentioned by Arrian and Plutarch.

Meeting with Officers: He summoned his officers, instructing them to prepare for the fleet's departure. Arrian records this meeting.

Evening Illness: Alexander's condition worsened in the evening, with Roxane, his wife, applying a poultice to his stomach for relief. This act is noted by the pseudo-Callisthenes and Arrian.

Day 5: 22 Daesius (June 5, 323 B.C.)

High Fever: Alexander's fever was very high. He was carried out on his bed to perform the sacrifices, as recorded by Arrian and Plutarch.

Officers' Meeting: Despite his illness, Alexander summoned his officers to discuss the expedition and the army's vacant posts. Plutarch provides details of these conversations.

Journey to the River: Alexander was carried to the river, where he sailed across to the park (northern palace) and took a bath before resting. Arrian describes this journey.

Day 6: 23 Daesius (June 6, 323 B.C.)

Morning Sacrifice: With difficulty, Alexander performed the morning sacrifices and gave further orders about the voyage, as noted by Arrian.

Day 7: 24 Daesius (June 7, 323 B.C.)

Realising His End: Aware of his impending death, Alexander planned to cast himself into the Euphrates, hoping his disappearance would perpetuate the myth of his divine origins. Roxane, however, intercepted him. This dramatic event is detailed by the pseudo-Callisthenes.

Roxane's Persuasion: Roxane convinced Alexander to return to his quarters, expressing her distress over his plan. The pseudo-Callisthenes provides an account of this conversation.

Return to Bed: Alexander, feeling the pull of fate, returned to bed, as documented by the pseudo-Callisthenes.

Day 8: 25 Daesius (June 8, 323 B.C.)

Testament Planning: Alexander summoned key generals, including Perdiccas and Ptolemy, to draft his testament. Arrian and Plutarch note this crucial meeting.

Address to the Army: Despite his severe condition, Alexander addressed his soldiers, sharing messages of reassurance and concern for their families. Arrian and Plutarch describe this emotional address.

Final Orders: After the address, Alexander handed his signet ring to Perdiccas, indicating his choice of successor. Arrian and Plutarch provide details of this significant act.

Day 9: 26 Daesius (June 9, 323 B.C.)

Silent Suffering: Alexander spent the day speechless and feverish, his condition rapidly deteriorating. Arrian and Plutarch note his silent suffering.

Day 10: 27 Daesius (June 10, 323 B.C.)

Soldiers' Visit: Desperate to see their king one last time, Alexander's soldiers forced their way into the palace. Alexander, though weak, greeted them, lifting his hand in acknowledgment. Arrian and Plutarch provide accounts of this poignant visit.

Handing Over the Ring: After the soldiers' visit, Alexander handed his ring to Perdiccas, solidifying his succession plans. Arrian and Plutarch describe this final gesture.

Day 11: 28 Daesius (June 11, 323 B.C.)

Consulting the Oracle: Alexander's friends consulted the oracle of Serapis, seeking guidance on whether Alexander should be moved to the temple. The oracle advised against it, suggesting that Alexander should remain where he was. Arrian and Plutarch recount this consultation.

Alexander's Death: Later that day, Alexander the Great passed away, marking the end of an era. Arrian, Plutarch, and Diodorus provide detailed accounts of his final moments and death.

The death of Alexander the Great was a culmination of political intrigue, personal vendettas, and his indomitable spirit. Despite severe illness, Alexander continued to perform his kingly duties, demonstrating extraordinary resilience. His death left a significant power vacuum, leading to the fragmentation of his vast empire.




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