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Today, we'll discuss The mystery of Napoleon's Death.

Some say he died of stomach cancer. Others claim he was poisoned.

This murder mystery has been around for nearly 200 years. What killed Napoleon Bonaparte?

Napoleon became Emperor of France in 1804 and reigned for more than a decade. He conquered and controlled most of Europe before being defeated and exiled to the Island of Elba near Italy.

You can't feel too sorry for him though. He was allowed a thousand man army, a household staff and even the title, Emperor of Elba.

Nine months later he escaped and staged a comeback. He was defeated again at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled even further away to an island off the coast of South Africa, where he died six years later.

Soon - rumors circulated that European leaders had poisoned him so he'd never return to power. In fact - as recently as 1961, studies reported high levels of arsenic in Napoleon's hair. But that poison was common in medicines and hair tonics back then.

Today - most of the conspiracy theories have been abandoned. The less exciting but likely explanation is cancer. Recently pathologists analyzed medical and eyewitness reports indicating Napoleon's health began failing in 1820.

The 18th century physicians at the autopsy documented his stomach had a large lesion and had been bleeding. The researchers concluded this 4 inch long lesion was likely cancerous and they also found no evidence of poisoning.

What could have caused this cancer? Heredity, perhaps? It's possible Napoleon's father and sister may have died of a similar cancer. Another very likely cause is an infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori which causes ulcers that can lead to stomach cancer.

The other leaders of Europe need not have worried, Napoleon was doomed by nature, not force of arms.

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The case report upon which this episode is based can be read in the science magazine Nature and it describes the work of scientists in Texas, Switzerland and Canada. The lead investigator, Dr. Robert Genta and his team conducted a case study applying modern clinical and pathological methods to historical reports about the death of Napoleon.
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Dr. Antommarchi was one of the physicians at the deathbed of Napoleon. As was the custom of the day, a death mask or mold of Napoleon's face was made. He later obtained a secondary plaster mold made from Dr Francis Burton's original cast of Napoleon's death mask. Later in France, with his own mold, Dr.Antommarchi made copies of the death mask in both bronze and plaster, one of these now resides in the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.
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In the Journal of the History of Medicine in 1998 another paper was published that also concludes that Napoleon died of a carcinoma. This manuscript includes a detailed discussion of the arsenic poisoning theory and possible sources of arsenic that could account for the levels of the poison detected in Napoleon's hair.
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A short history of Napoleon
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For more details of Napoleon's life, read the Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, Volume 16 by Louis Antoine Fauvelet De Bourrienne, his private secretary edited. It was edited by R. W. Phipps, Colonel, Late Royal Artillery in 1891.
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