10 Weirdest Ways That Ancient Rulers Died

One of the most shocking things about Game of Thrones is the brutal and often bizarre ways that the nobles and princes kick the bucket — but George R.R. Martin's horrifying story is pretty close to historical realism. Many historical leaders snuffed it in bizarre, insane ways, from being smothered by coats to, yes, drinking molten gold.

Here are 10 completely strange and terrible deaths that befell emperors, tyrants, and leaders in the ancient world.


10. Smothered by coats
Draco is responsible for creating one of the first written sets of laws, a set of rules governing 7th Century BCE life in Greece. In 590 BCE, Grecian authorities held a celebration to commemorate his hard work. Unfortunately, Draco died from suffocation due to audience members tossing hundreds of coats and shirts on top of him, a common custom from the time performed to show respect.

9. Really liking pie
King Henry I died in the year 1135 CE from complications of eating his favorite food, a sweet delicacy known as lamprey pie. Often warned by physicians about his proclivity for the dish, Henry I died from post-binge food poisoning. After Henry died, servants sewed the body of King Henry I inside of a cow (Luke Skywalker...Tauntaun style!) to keep it from rotting on the journey to his home in England.

8. Stabbing himself
A pretender stole the throne of Persia in 522 BCE, but the rightful ruler, King Cambyses II never got the chance to retake it. While preparing a force to attack dissidents, Cambyses II died from complications after accidentally stabbing himself in the thigh with his own knife. Tradition claims Cambyses died on the same spot where he previously killed a sacred bull.


7. Roasting in his own torture device
Phalaris ruled the city of Acragas during the 6th Century BCE, a small city on the southern coast of Sicily.


Known for his cruelty (he might have eaten babies), Phalaris often killed those who crossed him by locking the individual in a bronze container in the shape of a bull and starting a fire underneath it. (Yes, just like in Immortals.)

After 16 years of rule, a band of rebels overthrew Phalaris and placed him within his own bronze bull.


6. Falling asleep while cooking
A soldier and member of the imperial guard, Jovian became Emperor of Rome at the age of 31 thanks to the support of his fellow troops. Jovian decided to do some charcoal grilling one night in his room, which is normal for a single 32 year-old, and died from the equivalent of burning a studio apartment down with a hot plate.

Jovian's death is tied to a number of strange reasons, with the variegated historical record suggesting he died from carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire, inhalation of toxic fumes from his freshly painted room, or eating poisonous mushrooms.


5. Stabbed while urinating on the side of the road
The Roman Emperor Caracalla (198 to 217 CE) made all free men in the Roman Empire citizens, but only to increase tax revenue. A very unpleasant gentleman, Caracalla died when one of his personal guards stabbed the emperor in the heart as he urinated on the side of the road.


4. Maggot-eaten genitalia
Galerius (Roman Emperor from 305 to 311 CE) is remembered by history for not liking a certain religious group and for his plan to change the name of the Roman Empire to the Dacian Empire.

Galerius likely died of a combination of bowel cancer and Fournier Gangrene. The latter is a particularly nasty type of necrotizing fasciitis that attacks the genitals, allowing worms and maggots to move freely in and out of the privies.


3. Not dying
Tiberius, one of the great early emperors of Rome, reached the advanced age of 77, with the elderly ruler appearing to die of natural causes in 37 CE. One small problem though — he didn't.

Tiberius awoke shortly after his entourage announced his death, leading his successor, Caligula, to smother the elderly emperor with a pillow.


2. Drinking molten gold
Persian forces took the Roman Emperor Valerian (253 to 260 CE) captive as a prisoner of war in 260 CE, with Valerian likely living several more years in captivity.


Several rumored deaths befell Valerian, with the most common story claiming the Persian ruler Shapur poured molten gold down Valerian's throat, similar to the death Viserys Targaryen at the hand of Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. After Valerian's death, Shapur stuffed Valerian's body with straw and displayed it as a trophy. A 16th Century Spanish governor of Ecuador died centuries later in the same way, leading medical researchers to determine what happens to organs when one digests molten metals.

1. Cooked and eaten by his friends
György Dózsa is not an ancient king, but the leader of a peasant revolt against the rulers of Hungary in the 16th Century. After capturing György, Hungarian officials forced the ruler to sit on a hot iron throne and wear an iron crown. While he sat, servants plunged hot pliers into Dózsa's body to rip out and burn flesh. Officials then marched several of György's fellow starved rebels before the throne, forcing the men to eat György's burnt flesh. Guards later released the rebels who obeyed.


Works of art shown include The Death of Tiberius, Phalaris condemning the sculptor Perillus to the Bronze Bull, and an image of King Henry from the Chronicle of Matthew Paris. Additional images from Jim Mone/AP, the Journal of Clinical Pathology, and HBO/Management 360. Sources linked within the article.

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