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American researchers have found a striking correlation between the symptoms suffered by Alexander before his death in 323BC, and the effects of the highly toxic bacterium.

They have speculated that the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swaths of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the River Styx in Greece.

The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

The ancient Greeks maintained that its waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules.

Alexander fell ill during an all-night drinking party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq.

He complained of a "sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver" and had to be taken to bed, where over the next 12 days he developed a high fever and excruciating pains to his joints.

However, experts who have reviewed the circumstances of his death believe instead that he may have died from calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.

If they lied, the "king of the gods" forced them to drink the river water, which according to legend deprived them of the powers of speech and movement for a year.

"Such a sacred poison, used by the gods, would be appropriate for Alexander, who was already being thought of as semidivine," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford Universitys departments of classics and history of science who also worked on the paper, said.

"Notably, some of Alexanders symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx.

"He even lost his voice, like the gods who fell into a coma-like state after drinking from the river."

The Styxs ancient reputation for deadly toxicity bolstered the thesis but it remained unproven, historians said.