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The Medical Mystery of Napoleon Bonaparte: An Interdisciplinary Exposé

Lugli, Alessandro MD*; Clemenza, Massimiliano PhD; Corso, Philip E. MD; di Costanzo, Jacques MD§; Dirnhofer, Richard MD; Fiorini, Ettore PhD; Herborg, Costanza PhD; Hindmarsh, John Thomas MD♯,**; Orvini, Edoardo PhD; Piazzoli, Adalberto PhD††; Previtali, Ezio PhD; Santagostino, Angela PhD‡‡; Sonnenberg, Amnon MD§§,∥∥; Genta, Robert M. MD, FACG¶¶,♯♯

Advances in Anatomic Pathology: March 2011 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 152–158
doi: 10.1097/PAP.0b013e31820ca329
Review Articles

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 to 1821) is one of the most studied historical figures in European history. Not surprisingly, amongst the many mysteries still surrounding his person is the cause of his death, and particularly the suspicion that he was poisoned, continue to intrigue medical historians. After the defeat of the Napoleonic Army at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled to the small island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died 6 years later. Although his personal physician, Dr François Carlo Antommarchi, stated in his autopsy report that stomach cancer was the cause of death, this diagnosis was challenged in 1961 by the finding of an elevated arsenic concentration in one of Napoleon's hair samples. At that time it was suggested that Napoleon had been poisoned by one of his companions in exile who was allegedly supported by the British Government. Since then Napoleon's cause of death continues to be a topic of debate. The aim of this review is to use a multidisciplinary approach to provide a systematic and critical assessment of Napoleon's cause of death.

*Institute of Pathology, University Hospital of Basel

Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland

Departments of †Physics G.P.S. Occhialini

‡Environmental Science, University of Milano-Bicocca

Department of General Chemistry, University of Pavia

†Department of Nuclear and Theoretical Physics, University INFN, Pavia, Italy

Department of Plastic Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine

§Department of Digestive Intensive Care and Nutritional Support Unit, Hôpital de la Conception, Marseilles, France

Division of Biochemistry, The Ottawa Hospital

**Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, The University of Ottawa, Canada

§§Portland VA Medical Center

∥Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR

¶Caris Life Sciences, Irving

♯Department of Pathology, VAMC and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX

Reprints: Robert M. Genta, MD, FACG, Caris Research Institute, 6655 North MacArthur Boulevard, Irving, TX 75039 (e-mail:

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