Did a cobra kill Cleopatra?

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Tradition tells us that Egyptian Queen Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing a snake to bite her. The species quoted is that of an asp, which is found throughout Italy and much of France as well as northern Spain and parts of Switzerland. Anyone thinking of committing suicide would do better than using an asp because there is only around one chance in twenty five of dying and even then, you will need to get the most venomous variety which is found in the Alps. Not very convenient if you need to kill yourself in Egypt!\n\nMaybe when the ancient writers said asp, they meant the Egyptian cobra. That would make more sense. This snake is plentiful in Egypt.. The venom of a cobra is very potent and consists of neurotoxins which attack the nerve tissue and cytotoxins which attack cells. The average venom yield is 175 to 300 mg in a single bite, and the subcutaneous LD50 value is 1.15 mg/kg for mice. LD50 is the fifty percent chance of a lethal dose on mice, therefore 300mg of venom is enough to kill a mouse weighing more than 250kg! And it possibly has the same effect on other animals too. When the venom attacks the nervous system, it stops nerve signals from being transmitted to the muscles and at later stages stopping those transmitted to the heart and lungs as well, causing death due to complete respiratory failure. Envenomation causes local pain, severe swelling, bruising, blistering, necrosis and all sorts of other side effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, collapse, convulsions and flaccid paralysis. \n\nThat does not sound like a particularly pleasant way to go!\n\nAncient writers suggest that Cleopatra had taken a morbid interest in death and had had conducted experiments with prisoners under the sentence of death. She had found that snake bite was the best way of killing oneself quickly. However that is probably not the case as far as cobras are concerned. Death comes usually by asphixiation as the toxins stop the body functioning normally.\n\nThe Egpytian cobra is a long animal, an adult can grow to nearly three metres. Apparently Cleopatra\'s snake was delivered in a bowl of figs, which unless it were a particularly large bowl of figs, would not have been enough to hide a large snake. Of course it could have hidden a young cobra and the poison would have been just as lethal. Young snakes are usually the most dangerous because they do not know how much poison to inject whereas an adult may give a warning bite but not inject poison or inject a lower amount according to needs.\n\nTo be fair, classical writers (who may have lived many years after the death of Cleopatra) only suggest that a snake might have been responsible. Some mention suicide by venom or poison and some doubt the snake story. \n\nReading around this I found that this blatantly obvious idea had come to others. Pat Brown, author of a book called The Murder of Cleopatra: History’s Greatest Cold Case, argues that she was murdered. Christoph Schaefer, a professor of ancient history at Trier University, suggests the poison was responsible. Ancient papyri show that Cleopatra knew about poisons, and one papyrus says she actually tested them. Schaefer worked with German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs and they decided it was hemlock, mixed with wolfsbane and opium.\n\nThat would have guaranteed a relatively quick death without the problem of finding snakes to do the job although it might not sound as exciting as getting bitten by an animal associated with the Egyptian royal family.

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