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article imageNew theory raises possibility Julius Caesar suffered mini-strokes

By Karen Graham     Apr 17, 2015 in Science
London - Julius Caesar is considered one of the world's greatest military leaders, his conquests at times audacious in their planning. But besides studying his victories, historians and medical scientists have long debated his health history.
Historians have long suggested that Caesar, who lived from 100-44 BC, suffered from epilepsy and Ménière disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo, or the feeling that one is "spinning around."
The two conditions were the considered reasons for Julius Caesar's having an infliction called morbus comitialis, sometimes referred to as the sacred sickness, or, falling sickness. This is because, in ancient Rome, it was the custom to close down a public meeting (comitia) for ritual purification if a legislator had a seizure, (morbus sacer).
Actually, there are four documented episodes in which Caesar suffered "partial seizures." The earliest accounts of these seizures were supposedly made by the biographer Suetonius, who was born after Caesar died. Other scholars have suggested everything from a brain tumor to parasitic infection of the brain. But the researchers base their theory on Caesar's illness at the Battle of Thapsus.
Scheme of the Battle of Thapsus - Reproduction of a copper printing by Andrea Palladio (1619) Source...
Scheme of the Battle of Thapsus - Reproduction of a copper printing by Andrea Palladio (1619) Source: scanned from a book in my possession (dated 1619).
The Battle of Thapsus in 46BC
The battle took place on February 6, 46BC in Thapsus, which is modern Tunisia. Republican forces of the Optimates, led by Quintus Caecillius Metellus Scipio, clashed with the veteran forces loyal to Julius Caesar. Now what is interesting about Caesar's victory is that almost 10,000 of Scipio's soldiers put down their arms, wanting to surrender, but Caesar's forces slaughtered all of them.
Caesar was known to be merciful in victory, but he supposedly fell into an "epileptic fit" on the battlefield, and was in and out of consciousness for the remainder of the battle, and not in control of his troops. We know of this from the writings of Plutarch, the Greek historian, biographer and essayist.
Copy of Plutarch at Chaeronia  Greece
Copy of Plutarch at Chaeronia, Greece
Researchers pose a different reason for Caesar's illness
Modern scientists have a different take on the epilepsy theory. A new study suggests a cardiovascular explanation may more accurately describe Caesar's health because, at least until his untimely death, he was in good health, both publicly and in his private affairs.
Two researchers from the Imperial College London suggest that a series of mini-strokes, or "transient ischemic attacks" makes more sense, especially when describing his symptoms. They included vertigo and headache, as well as "giddiness and insensibility." The researchers point out the dramatic change in Caesar's mental state as the years went on, especially the depression that often goes along with stroke-induced brain damage.
“All of the symptoms reported in Caesar’s life are compatible with him having multiple mini-strokes,” said Francesco Galassi, a medical doctor at Imperial who conducted the analysis with Hutan Ashrafian, a surgeon at the college.
The scientists also examined the sudden deaths of Caesar's father and another relative. Both of them had died while bending over to put their shoes on. The researchers point out that "even if Caesar participated in an active lifestyle and may have benefited from a Mediterranean diet, there is the added possibility of genetic predisposition toward cardiovascular disease," according to the Guardian.
Christopher Pelling, professor of Greek at Oxford University, says that while Caesar's illness may have been thought to be epilepsy, “I’ve no idea if it’s medically plausible, but it’s interesting, and it would matter,” he said. “Any physical ailment wouldn’t have helped, whether it was epilepsy of something else.”
The study was published in the journal Neurological Sciences on March 29, 2015 under the title: "Has the diagnosis of a stroke been overlooked in the symptoms of Julius Caesar?"
More about julius carsar, battle of trapsus, Epilepsy, ministrokes, New study
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