King Herod is known to one and all as the ruthless king of Judea. His reign has been mentioned in the Bible. He ordered the killing of infant babies in a bid to kill baby Jesus. He has also ordered the execution of one out of ten wives and three sons. Herod was a shrewd politician and had vast influence over the Eastern Mediterranean. He knew every famous personality from the late first century from Pompey, Julius Caesar to Marcus Agrippa and Augustus. He was named the King of Judea in 40 B.C. But he died at the age of 69 in 4 B.C. and since then the reason for his death has remained one of history’s mysteries.
Ancient texts had indicated that king Herod’s last days were spent in pain and discomfort due to intestinal problems and itching in his private parts. Latest medical research to determine the cause of Herod’s death has sited chronic kidney disease and nasty gangrene as a cause for his death. This diagnosis has been based on written accounts by Herod’s biographer Flavius Josephus who lived more than 75 years after the death of Herod. In his writing Josephus had consulted the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicholas of Damascus. In his last day Herod has been described as having fever (though not that high), intolerable itching throughout his skin, continuous intestinal pains, tumours of the feet, gangrene in his private parts and inflation of abdomen. Josephus has further stated that Herod was also suffering from asthma, foul breath and limb convulsions.
When considering the symptom of itching it has to be said that there are very few diseases that cause intolerable itching. Among the possible causes could be hypo or hyper-thyroidism or Hodgkin’s disease. The genital gangrene mentioned by Josephus was caused due to a rare infection called Fournier’s Gangrene.
In the past most of the scholars had suggested that King Herod had died of gonorrhoea. But most of other features mentioned by Josephus match with the symptoms of chronic kidney disease. When the waste products are not excreted normally the urine eliminated in not of the adequate levels required. The king had undergone some mental changes too due to his disease. It has been mentioned he tried to commit suicide by cutting himself with a knife. He became paranoid and even ordered the execution of one of his sons. King Herod also suffered from gangrene in genitals.
May be the kidney ailment caused him to scratch his private parts. This scratching gave rise to Fournier’s gangrene which is a rare and “massive bacterial infection of the scrotum”. In this disease infection of the scrotum and penis progresses from redness to dead tissues within a few hours, such an infection is caused by perforations in the intestines, genitals and urethra. The medical researcher Jan Hirschmann concluded his findings “It is a horrible way to go.”