The rare autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) might have finished Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in just a few days, a recent study by Dr Katherine Hall from the Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand suggests. Hall proposes that her conjecture could prove that his death was the most famous case of false diagnosis ever recorded.
The disease, which two in every 100,000 people suffer from, is now able to be successfully treated. Caused by an infection, it leads the body’s immune system to attack the victim’s nervous system, which resulting in paralysis. At the same time, it does not impact the victim’s brain, allowing them to remain conscious, something that matches the description of Alexander’s final days.
At the age of 32, following a feast where he drank over a dozen pints of wine, the conqueror began to suffer from abdominal pain and developed a severe fever, leaving unable to move anything but his eyes and hands mere days after the first signs of the malady. On the eleventh day, he was pronounced dead (as he allegedly did not show any sign of breathing by that time).
Over the centuries, theories as to what might have caused his mysterious death have stacked up and include typhoid fever, alcoholism, and poisoning; however, as Hall told The Sun, she “wanted to stimulate new debate and discussion and possibly rewrite the history books by arguing Alexander’s real death was six days later than previously accepted”.
According to the research, published in The Ancient History Bulletin, the most striking feature of the feared military leader’s sudden death was that he allegedly remained fully conscious until his death, despite his limbs and organs failing, as well as his breath becoming so thin doctors that were unable notice it. This, along with reports about his increasing level of paralysis led scholars to the conclusion that a campylobacter pylori infection caused his autoimmune disorder.
The disease could also explain the legend that the king of Macedonia and Persia’s body showed no signs of decay. Alexander’s remains did not decompose even days after being pronounced dead and preparations for the burial had begun, serving as a sign of his godlike nature to his contemporaries — but it may just be more evidence that he had in fact been alive the entire time.
“It is very likely [he] was in a deep coma by this stage and would have had no awareness when they began their task”, the researcher told The Sun.