Hail Caesar's Strokes
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Augustus, successor to Julius CaesarAmong the most renowned figures of history is Julius Caesar, a ruler of Rome who was assassinated by his allies. Before his death, though, he was already ailing from an illness which historians have long thought was epilepsy. A new theory claims instead that Caesar had suffered a series of mini-strokes.

Given the descriptions of his symptoms from ancient writings, this new explanation is a simpler and more logical diagnosis. It’s unusual for epilepsy to first strike in adults, which is when Caesar developed symptoms including limb weakness, dizziness and headaches.

Those who wrote about him include Plutarch, who described Caesar as not being able to stand when the Roman senate honored him. Plutarch also wrote about Caesar being so affected by an orator “that his body trembled, and some of the papers he held dropped out of his hands.” Caesar had also developed an unpredictable personality and depression.

The study’s authors argue that all these symptoms are compatible with mini-strokes. Though he was a remarkably fit man well into his fifties, Caesar had a family history of immediate relatives who died unexpectedly. Pliny the Elder noted that Caesar’s father and another relative both died suddenly while putting on their shoes. This suggests he may have inherited a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease.

Of course, Caesar may have wanted to be an epileptic because at the time it was considered a sign of divine possession. We may never really know what ailed Caesar, but it’s always fascinating to decode the lives of great historical figures using the tools of modern medicine.