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The Stories Of An Assasination Essay, Research Paper

The Stories of an Assassination Alexander the Great’s death did not fit the life that he led. Alexander should have died an old man, reigning over a great kingdom. A valiant death on the battlefield may have even been a more appropriate end to the life of Alexander. Yet his death came at the most unexpected time and place. Alexander died in the prime of his life, not at the hands of his enemies, but rather by a simple disease. This seems almost too impossible to believe. Alexander had survived numerous battles and long exhausting treks through uncharted territory, yet he died while resting in the city of Babylon. Was it actually disease that took the life of the great Alexander? Or did Alexander meet his fate in a similar fashion to that of Julius Caesar, with a planed assassination by his closest confidants? Alexander died in Babylon on June 10th 323 BCE after an illness of approximately ten days (Bosworth 113). The symptoms of the disease first appeared after Alexander had spent a night drinking with various friends. He began that fateful evening by hosting a banquet in honor of Nearchus. After this event was completed Alexander was invited to Medius’s home for another party. He went to the affair and after drinking throughout the next day, he began to feel feverish (Plutarch 75). Alexander tried to continue on with his numerous duties, but the illness began to worsen to the point where he could no longer move or speak (Arrian 7.26). Python and Seleucus went to a temple in order to see if Alexander could be saved if he was brought there. The God replied that Alexander should be left where he was (Plutarch 76). Shortly after this Alexander the Great’s life came to an end. The initial belief was that Alexander had died due to a mysterious illness that he had contracted while in Babylon. But soon after Alexander’s death, possibly even within a year, rumors began to spread that Alexander had been assassinated. Olympia, Alexander’s mother, even received word of such news and “put many men to death” based on this information (Plutarch 77). There were many different theories circulated throughout Alexander’s kingdom on who may have killed him. One such belief was that Aristotle had become upset with Alexander due to the death of Callisthenes and thus sent a drug to Iollas in order to kill Alexander. Another popular belief was that Medius had a hand in the death. He may have poisoned one of Alexander’s drinks while Alexander was attending Medius’ drinking-party (Arrian 7.28). This theory is supported by Diodorus’ claim (17.117.I-2) that Alexander had experienced a “sharp pain” after finishing one of his drinks. This seems to indicate that the rumors of an assasination may have been true. But Plutarch specifically denies the account of Diodorus. Plutarch claims that Alexander did not experience any pain while drinking from the “cup of Hercules”. Rather Alexander did not feel ill until the next morning. Plutarch asserts that certain historians simply added these account to embellish Alexander’s death and to invent “a tragic and moving finale to great action” (Plutarch 75). Arrian sides with Plutarch by saying that these accounts are all “stories and I do not expect them to be believed” (Arrian 7.28). These varying accounts by the ancient historians make it very difficult to decipher whether or not Alexander was assassinated.

The fact that Alexander died suddenly and at a very young age is one of the major reasons that assassination rumors began. Alexander was in the prime of his life when he died; he was not an old man whose immune system had been worn down. He had just completed a crusade that had lasted for over a decade. This crusade included innumerable battles, long hikes through unbearable weather, and many encounters with unknown lands. Alexander had survived all of this, and then he dies while relaxing in the metropolis of Babylon. This seems improbable; Alexander had gone through too much to die due to a simple disease. These unusual circumstances led to the rumors of an assassination, but they do not provide any proof of one. The theory of an assassination is often times supported by the events that occurred following the death of Alexander. When Alexander died he did not have a legitimate heir to his throne or a designated successor. This should have led to a prolonged struggle for power between various factions of people. Throughout history whenever a king died without leaving an heir, and even times when he did name a successor, a fight for power would ensue. This did not happen after Alexander’s death. The kingdom was passed from Alexander to a group of leaders without a hitch. There was no war or power-struggle until a year after Alexander’s death. This has led many scholars to propose the theory that a group of men had formed a junta before Alexander’s death. The conspirators, whoever they may have been, supposedly had planned out before the Alexander’s death who would receive the various portions of the kingdom. They then presumably poisoned Alexander so that it would appear as if he died of natural causes. After his death, they followed through with the coup d’etat and took control of the nation. This equilibrium of power was supposedly broken after a year when Perdiccas made a bid for supreme power (Bosworth 136). The circumstances surrounding Alexander’s death may have been somewhat peculiar, but they do not provide any factual evidence for an assassination. Alexander the Great’s life was beyond description. He conquered more land than any single individual before him and he was the most famous general of antiquity. Alexander’s life did not end in a climactic final moment; instead it ended like that of a normal man. This may have led to the numerous stories of a murder or conspiracy. People wanted to dramatize the death of Alexander. They wanted to add to the myth and legend of the man, and the best way to do this was to add an exciting finish. It may seem strange to us that Alexander died at a young age, but that was not uncommon in the days of old. There is no strong factual evidence for an assassination. Historians may try and piece together the succession narrative in hopes of finding some hint of a conspiracy, but it is all just theories and stories. I must side with Plutarch when he said “these are details which certain historians felt obliged to embellish the occasion, and thus invent a tragic and moving finale to great action.”


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