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Death comes for us all, but some leave better stories than others. These strange deaths will make you shake your head, and think twice! Source: xlaoma / Adobe Stock

11 Very Strange Deaths from History

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We all die eventually, but some of us go out in weirder ways than others. With the number of people who have existed throughout human history, at least a few strange deaths are to be expected. Below, we compiled a list of some of the most bizarre deaths ever recorded in ancient history. 

1.Sir William Payne-Gallwey: Death by Turnip

Sir William Payne-Gallwey was a British Member of Parliament in the late 19th century. Sir William, like many other British MPs, loved to go hunting throughout the year. On one unfortunate hunting trip, Sir William crossed through a  turnip field, where he fell and sustained significant internal injury from one particularly large turnip. He died of his injuries just a few days later. 

2.Zeuxis: Death by Laughter

Laughing is all fun and games - until it kills you. Zeuxis, a Greek painter in the 5th century BC, had his last laugh after observing his own painting of  Aphrodite. Allegedly, an elderly woman had commissioned the painting for her home, but decided to model for it herself. After the painting of this elderly woman as Aphrodite was completed, Zeuxis observed his work and laughed so hard that he died. 

Zeuxis Choosing his Models for the Image of Helen from among the Girls of Croton, 1791 painting. Zeuxis literally died of laughter over one of his paintings. (Public Domain)

Zeuxis Choosing his Models for the Image of Helen from among the Girls of Croton, 1791 painting. Zeuxis literally died of laughter over one of his paintings. ( Public Domain )

3.Draco of Athens: Death by Gift Suffocation

In 620 BC, theatergoers in Aegina, Greece accidentally killed a man with their affection.  Draco of Athens , an ancient lawmaker, was so loved by the Aeginian citizens that they showered him with gifts of appreciation. The citizens threw so many items on him that he ended up smothered by them, suffocated to death by the gifts of his admirers. 

4.Aeschylus: Death by Tortoise

If you happen to be bald, you may want to watch out for this one.  Aeschylus, an ancient Athenian tragedian from the 5th century BC, had a bald head that was so shiny and round that an eagle thought it was a rock. The eagle dropped a large  tortoise onto his head to shatter its shell for consumption, which promptly killed him. The irony? He had only gone outdoors that day because he feared his house would collapse and kill him. 

The death of Aeschylus, illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle (Public Domain)

The death of Aeschylus, illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle ( Public Domain )

5.Antiphanes: Death by Pear

Another strange death in ancient history was Antiphanes, an ancient comic poet from the 4th century BC. The playwright had an unfortunate day lingering under some fruit trees. According to the  Suda, an ancient  Byzantine encyclopedia from the 10th century, Antiphanes was killed by a fallen pear. 

6.Agathocles of Syracuse: Death by Toothpick

Agathocles was an ancient king of  Sicily and a Greek tyrant of Syracuse. Many ancient Sicilians did not like Agathocles's way of rule, and he was frequently mentioned in ancient texts for his criminal deeds. In 289 BC, Agathocles was murdered when he used a  toothpick dipped in  poison by one of his enemies. 

7.Eleazar Avaran: Death by Elephant

Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish priest in the 2nd century BC who led the  Maccabean Revolt  against the  Seleucid Empire . However, he is not the star of this particular story. His brother, Eleazar Avaran, is. Eleazar was serving in his brother’s revolt when he heroically killed a king’s war elephant by stabbing his spear into its stomach. Unfortunately, the dying  elephant then collapsed onto him, killing him.

Another strange death: Eleazar Avaran heroically killed an elephant in battle, only to be crushed to death by its body. (Public Domain)

Another strange death: Eleazar Avaran heroically killed an elephant in battle, only to be crushed to death by its body. ( Public Domain )

8.Marcus of Arethusa: Death by Bees

Marcus of  Arethusa had a sweet ending to his life, but not in the way you’d expect. This  Christian martyr  met a strange death when he was hung in a honey-covered basket by his enemies and left for the bees, which then stung him to death. Ouch! 

The martyrdom of Marcus, Bishop of Arethusa, covered in honey and left for the wasps or bees (Wellcome Collection / Public Domain)

The martyrdom of Marcus, Bishop of Arethusa, covered in honey and left for the wasps or bees (Wellcome Collection /  Public Domain )

9.Hans Staininger: Death by Own Beard

Another strange death occurred in the 16th century, in what is now Austria. Hans Staininger was the burgomaster or mayor of Braunau. He met an unfortunate end when there was a fire in his town, but it wasn’t the blaze that killed him. While evacuating, he accidentally tripped on his own 4.5-foot-long (1.4 meter) beard, breaking his neck in the process. The beard was normally wrapped up in a leather pouch, but he decided to go without on that fateful day. 

A stained glass window of Hans Staininger in the Church of St. Stephan in Braunau am Inn. Staininger’s strange death was caused by tripping over his own long beard (Gerd Eichmannn / CC BY SA 4.0)

A stained glass window of Hans Staininger in the Church of St. Stephan in Braunau am Inn. Staininger’s strange death was caused by tripping over his own long beard (Gerd Eichmannn /  CC BY SA 4.0 )

10.Gouverneur Morris: Death by Whalebone

Gouverneur Morris, the author of the Preamble to the United States Constitution, was one of the lesser-known founding fathers of the United States. The New York Senator and early slavery opponent met a strange and unfortunate end after attempting to take his health into his own hands. Morris had a painful blockage in his urinary tract, which he attempted to clear using a whalebone. While reports claim he was successful in removing the blockage, he soon developed an  infection from the whalebone procedure, which led to his death in 1816. 

11.John Cummings: Death by Knife Swallowing

Although it may seem obvious that swallowing knives will likely lead to your death, this story is even crazier than you’d expect. John Cummings began knife swallowing after observing a professional knife-swallower at a local circus. On his first attempt, he swallowed four knives with no issues, passing three of them and facing no issues from the fourth. He then increased his tolerance to swallow 14 knives at once, which he somehow passed after only a few days of abdominal pain.

Trying his luck one last time, Cummings swallowed 20 knives and a knife case in one go, but it was unfortunately his last attempt. Cummings only passed the knife case a few days later, and did not pass any of the 20 knives. After four years of terrible abdominal pain, he finally died. An autopsy revealed that upon his death, his stomach contained one full knife blade, a spring, and at least 40 different fragments of metal, horn, and wood. 

Evidence from a strange death: A drawing of the objects found in the stomach of John Cummings (Public Domain)

Evidence from a strange death: A drawing of the objects found in the stomach of John Cummings ( Public Domain )

Note to Self: Don’t Trip on Own Beard

Although we never know when our time will come, we can all certainly hope our deaths are less strange than many of these examples. Perhaps try to be more careful about where you walk, or what you put in your mouth! Which strange death surprised you the most?

Top image: Death comes for us all, but some leave better stories than others. These strange deaths will make you shake your head, and think twice! Source:  xlaoma / Adobe Stock

By Lex Leigh

References

Antiphanes. June 25, 2015. Suda Online. Available at:  https://www.cs.uky.edu/~raphael/sol/sol-entries/alpha/2735   

Bryant, C. W. March 9, 2009.  10 Bizarre Ways to Die . HowStuffWorks. Available at:  https://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/death-dying/10-ways-to-die.htm  

Felton, B., & Fowler, M. 1984.  Felton & Fowler's Best, Worst, and Most Unusual . New York.

Goddard J. C. 2003. A Seaman's Wager. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Volume 96, Issue 7, 359–360.  https://doi.org/10.1177/014107680309600718   

Hubbell, S. January 1, 1997.  Let us now praise the romantic, artful, versatile toothpick . Smithsonian.com. Available at:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/let-us-now-praise-the-romantic-artful-versatile-toothpick-1-46061199/  

Marvin, F. R. 1970.  The last words (real and traditional) of distinguished men and women: Collected from various sources . Gale Research Company, Book Tower.

McKeown, J. C. 2013.  A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities, Strange tales, and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization . Oxford University Press.

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