Saladin, one of the leading figures of the medieval world, died in his mid-50s from an unknown illness. Now a new theory has emerged that he died from typhoid.
Stephen J. Gluckman, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, presented his findings last week at the 25th annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference. Dr. Gluckman, an expert on parasitic disorders, carefully reviewed what is known about the 12th century Sultan’s medical history. “Practicing medicine over the centuries required a great deal of thought and imagination,” he says. “The question of what happened to Saladin is a fascinating puzzle.”
Born in 1137, An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub – better known as Saladin – rose to become the Sultan of an enormous area that now includes Egypt, Syria, parts of Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and other regions of North Africa. He successfully led armies against the invading Crusaders and conquered several kingdoms. Historians have described him as the most famous Kurd ever.
Saladin’s illness began in 1193, with one of his close confidents reporting in a chronicle that “he experienced a great sluggishness and the night had not half gone before he was struck by a bilious fever, which was more internal than external.” He symptoms became worse and he died within two weeks.
Dr. Gluckman theorizes that typhoid, a bacterial disease that was very common in the region at the time, is the most likely culprit. Today of course, antibiotics could have greatly helped Saladin. But in the 12th century these medicines did not exist.
Typhoid fever is a potentially deadly disease spread by contaminated food and water. Symptoms of typhoid include high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, and loss of appetite. It is common in many part of the world. Globally, typhoid infects about 22 million people a year, and kills 200,000.
“It’s difficult to work it out because there is essentially no information—there are no tests and the historical accounts are a little questionable, and there isn’t much anyhow,” Stephen Gluckman, prof. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine