February 12, 2008

Proof That Napoleon Was Not Poisoned By British Captors

Scientists in Italy claim that they have disproved the legend that Napoleon was poisoned by his British jailors.

Although his post-mortem said that he died due to stomach cancer at age 51, there had been a lingering theory of an assassination attempt to stop the French emperor from regaining any of his political powers. This was due to studies in recent decades which indicated that his body contained a high level of arsenic.

Researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and the University of Pavia studied the British assassination theory.

"It was not arsenic poisoning that killed Napoleon at Saint Helena," researchers reported.

Researchers in Italy used a nuclear reactor to irradiate to study samples of Napoleon's hair from different periods of his life, which are kept in museums in Italy and France. They found that although his body did contain a high level of arsenic, the emperor was already contaminated as a young child.

They also cross-examined similar samples of people who lived in the early 1800s and found that arsenic levels were typically higher than commonly found in people today. These levels were 100 times as contaminated with arsenic than the current average.

"The result? There was no poisoning in our opinion because Napoleon's hairs contain the same amount of arsenic as his contemporaries," the researchers said in a statement published on the university's website.

The cause for the increased level of arsenic in people alive during the 1800s is attributed to glues and dyes commonly used at the time.

"The environment in which people lived in the early 1800s evidently caused the intake of quantities of arsenic that today we would consider dangerous," the scientists said.

"It is clear that one cannot talk about a case of poisoning, but of a constant absorption of arsenic," the researchers said.

After his failed invasion of Russia, Napoleon was captured and placed on the Italian island of Elba. He returned to France, but met his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, when he was sent to Saint Helena.


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University of Pavia