29th May 323 BC
- This evening, Alexander attends dinner with friends
- Late into the night, Alexander retires to his quarters, but meets Medius on the way. Medius invites the king to a party that he is holding.
- Alexander joins Medius; later on, he returns to his quarters where he bathes and goes to bed.
- At some point during the night, Alexander wakes and decides to rejoin Medius. The two dine together and continue drinking.
- In the early hours of the morning, Alexander returns to his quarters again where he bathes, sups and retires. He is feeling feverous.
30th May 323 BC
- Alexander is too ill to leave his bed. He is carried in it to wherever he carries out his religious duties.
- Afterwards, Alexander is taken to the men’s quarters of the palace where he remains the rest of the day.
- During the day, Alexander continues making preparations for the projected expedition to Arabia.
- In the evening, Alexander is carried in his bed to the Euphrates river and taken to a park on its far side where he is bathed. He presumably stays overnight in quarters by the river.
31st May 323 BC
- The next day, Alexander is able to leave his bed. He bathes and offers sacrifice.
- Afterwards, he returns to his quarters where he meets Medius. The two chat, and Alexander gives Medius orders to bring the latter’s officers to him on the morrow.
- After his meeting with Medius has finished, Alexander eats and retires to his quarters. The fever remains on him.
1st June 323 BC
- This morning, Alexander carries out his usual routine of bathing and offering sacrifice. He then meets Nearchus and gives him orders for the sailing of the fleet.
2nd June 323 BC
- As per normal, Alexander bathes and carries out his religious duties.
- Despite the fever still being with him, Alexander continues his preparations for the Arabian expedition.
- That evening, Alexander bathes again. That evening, the fever grows worse; in the space of a few hours, Alexander becomes gravely ill.
3rd June 323 BC
- This morning, Alexander returns to the park on the far side of the Euphrates.
- Despite the fact that his fever is getting worse, he sacrifices – a true sign of his religious devotion if ever there was one – and continues making preparations for the Arabian expedition.
4th June 323 BC
- A week after falling ill, Alexander is once more too ill to leave his bed.
- He is nearly too ill to perform his religious duties and continue preparations for the expedition to Arabia but manages both.
5th June 323 BC
- Alexander is now desperately ill. Despite this, he continues to perform his religious duties. He gives orders for his senior officers to wait near his quarters for him to call them.
- Perhaps recognising for the first time that the king may die, his doctor (or most senior officers?) move him back to the royal palace from the park.
- There, Alexander recognises his men when they come to see him but is unable to speak to them. He will not do so until his death. Alexander’s fever is now at its worst.
6th June 323 BC
- Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever.
7th June 323 BC
- For the second day in a row, Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever.
8th June 323 BC
- For the third day in a row, Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever. How long can he hold out for? Or will the fever finally break?
9th June 323 BC
- The fever does not break. Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever, and rumours are swirling around Babylon regarding the king’s condition. The Macedonian soldiers demand to see him. The senior officers acquiesce and, either today or yesterday, or both, Alexander’s men file past him to take sight of the king.
- Alexander is barely able to raise his head but acknowledges the men with his eyes.
- Tonight, Attalus, Cleomenes, Demophon, Peithon, Peucestas and Seleucus go to the temple of Serapis (or another, similarly named god) to ask the god if it would be better for Alexander(‘s recovery) if he was brought to him.
- They stay the night so as to receive the god’s answer in a dream. He replies: no, it would not be better; Alexander should remain where he is.
10th June 323 BC
- Late afternoon on a cloudy day in Babylon, Alexander dies.
I used my Penguin Classics (1971) of Arrian to work out the number of days between the onset of Alexander’s fatal illness and his death. And if I have read Arrian correctly, he suggests that eleven days elapsed during this time. However, in his biography Alexander the Great (Penguin Books, 2004), Robin Lane Fox states that Medius’ party, the night of which Alexander fell ill, took place on 29th May, and that Alexander died on 10th June, thirteen days later.
Out of respect for Lane Fox’s dating, therefore, I added two days to Alexander’s illness. This was not an easy matter as in the Penguin translation Arrian is very clear about the passage of time, the text is full of ‘next day…the following morning… the day after’ etc. As can be seen above, Alexander was bedridden from 5th June onwards. His fever was such that he could do nothing. As Arrian does not describe any actions on Alexander’s part, therefore, I have inserted the two extra days here.
Of course, if you know of any dating that shows how Medius’ party actually took place on 31st May, or 1st June, as scholars debate whether Alexander died on 10th or 11th of the month, then feel free to leave a link in the comments below.
One last point – I first presented this account of the last days of Alexander on my Alexander Facebook page between 29th May and 10th June 2017.