Today In Fact, 10 June

Two European emperors died today over 1,500 years apart.

Alexander the Great was the son and heir of Phillip of Macedon. Famously taught by Aristotle, Alexander inherited a Greek state and a battle-hardened army which he took on a grand conquering tour of the Middle East. During his campaigns, he founded over twenty cities bearing his name and encouraged the diffusion of Greek culture across the Middle East.

Alexander married twice but there is a persistent rumour that his true love was Hephaestion. Aristotle, who taught both when they were boys, said of them that they were one soul in two bodies. The two shared everything and when Hepheastion died, Alexander’s grief was intense and public. Alexander died within a year of his friend’s death aged only 32.

Alexander died after a massive drinking bout in which he downed a large bowl of unmixed wine. It took two weeks of agony for him to die. Some suggest he died of meningitis or appendicitis but whatever the cause of his death, his followers entombed him in a giant golden sarcophagus filled with honey and his honey-covered corpse was then taken to Alexandria and has been lost. His great empire fell apart after his death with his generals creating various dynasties that ruled the Middle East for centuries.

The other emperor to die today drowned crossing a river while leading the Third Crusade in 1190. Frederick Barbarossa or red beard was 68 years old and had ruled as the Holy Roman Emperor for almost 35 years. On the crusade Barbarossa had decided to walk his horse through the Saleph River instead of crossing the bridge that had been too crowded with his troops. The current was too strong for the horse to handle, and his suit armour was too heavy for him to swim in: both were swept away and drowned.

Barbarossa’s corpse, unlike Alexander’s was put in a barrel of vinegar. The barrel and its contents were lost on the crusade’s panicky march to Acre. Barbarossa’s death had plunged his army into chaos. Leaderless, panicking, and attacked on all sides by Turks, many of his troops deserted, were killed, or even committed suicide. Only 5,000 soldiers, a small fraction of the original force, eventually arrived in Acre.

So two great conquering European emperors died while on campaign in the Middle East and although one was covered with honey and the other with vinegar, neither substance allowed their mortal remains to be preserved as both corpses have been lost.

Empire and Emperors all must, consign themselves to dust.

Not honey nor gall, will save our corpses from earth’s dusty pall.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (