Did King Herod suffer from a rheumatic disease?

Clinical Rheumatology
Cianna Leatherwood, Richard S Panush


Herod the Great was appointed "king of Jews," to govern Judea, by the Roman Emperor and Senate. He lived from 73/74 BCE to 4 CE. He died with an illness and symptoms that have been the source of considerable speculation. Richard Strauss depicted Herod in his classic opera, "Salome." That opera was derived from a play of the same name by Oscar Wilde, which was based on an 1876 painting, "Salome Dancing Before Herod," by Gustave Moreau. The operatic Herod was afflicted with an illness characterized by dementia, hallucinations, paranoia, alcoholism (from drinking the Emperor's wine), violence, twitches, and sterility; different interpretations showed him also with falls, chills, shaking, thirst, forgetfulness, and sleepiness, for which we suggest the novel diagnosis of chronic lead intoxication (which can manifest to rheumatologists as saturnine gout). He had compatible symptoms (encephalopathy and neuromuscular abnormalities) and consumed excessive quantities of imperial wine, known to be highly contaminated with lead and likely associated with similar symptoms among Roman aristocracy. Herod's demented cruelties-an oppressive reign which including the beheading of John the Baptist-exacerbated the political climate and may have co...Continue Reading


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