Did poisoning play a role in Napoleon’s death? A systematic review

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaArticolo in rivista


Introduction: On 5 May 2021 we celebrate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death. Despite autopsy findings of a “gastric cancer” and, more importantly, gastric perforated ulcer complicated with bleeding, the questions about the illness that tormented Napoleon at St. Helena and whether the death was a consequence of a poisoning, maintain an unbroken fascination. PubMed/MEDLINE lists hundreds of articles. We also consulted Index-Cat library for articles dating back to the eighteenth century. The present paper presents for the first time a systematic review on this topic. Methods: The authors divided the selected articles according to the methodology of the papers: (a) illness and autopsy evidence revised by current pathological knowledge; (b) toxicological tests on Napoleon’s hair performed by modern analytical techniques. Results: None of the articles denied the toxicological evidence from Napoleon’s hair, although analytical papers did not offer homogeneous results due to several biases. Few of them refuted the hypothesis of death due to primary toxic substances. Most considered gastric bleeding is the primary cause of Napoleon’s death due to solely or nearly completely gastric cancer or to medications containing antimony, mercury, or arsenic. Conclusions: Upon review of the contemporary and modern evidence, we classify Napoleon’s 1821 death as “unnatural” with massive gastric bleeding due to primary involvement of toxic substances that may have precipitated or exacerbated an underlying “natural” pathological condition or a disease as likely could be a stomach carcinoma; it does not imply criminal intent.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)658-672
Numero di pagine15
RivistaClinical Toxicology
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2021


  • Arsenic Poisoning
  • Cause of Death
  • Famous Persons
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage
  • Hair
  • Humans
  • Napoleon
  • Stomach Neoplasms
  • cancer
  • death
  • gastric
  • intoxication
  • systematic review


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