History’s Most Influential Monkey
Did you know that King Alexander of Greece met his death at the hands (and teeth) of a monkey? Not Alexander the Great, mind , but a more recent King Alexander (1893 – 1920). Less imposing than the great conqueror of the ancient world, this Alexander, who reigned from 1917 until killed by a monkey three years later, is better known to history for the undignified manner of his death than for anything he did in life.
In 1917, during WW1, the Entente forced Alexander’s father to abdicate because he was too pro-German. Once Alexander ascended the throne in his father’s place, the pro Entente Eleutherios Venizelos became Greek premier, dominated the king and government, and joined the war on the Entente side. After the war, Venizelos and his puppet king were committed to a political platform called Great Greece. It consisted of capturing from the defeated Ottoman Empire, now reduced to modern Turkey, all the lands that had once been inhabited by Greeks, dating back millennia. So in 1919, with tacit French and British support, Greek armies were sent to invade Turkey and seize the Ionian coast.
The king never got to see the end of that adventure, however, because his own undignified end intervened. It began with a visit to the Royal Gardens on September 30th, 1920 – a turning point in Greek history. While walking his dog through the Gardens that day, king and pooch came across somebody’s pet Barbary macaque monkey. The dog attacked the monkey, which fought back, and Alexander rushed in to separate the brawling animals. Unbeknownst to the king, however, the monkey had friends.
As Alexander struggled to restore the peace, another monkey rushed in to defend his pal. Seeing what appeared to be the king and a dog ganging up on his buddy, the newly arrived monkey joined the fray, and fell upon Alexander, biting him in the leg and upper torso several times. The king’s entourage came to his aid upon hearing the commotion, and chased away the monkeys, but by then the damage had already been done.
The monkey bites became inflamed, and the king developed a serious infection. Alexander’s leg should have been amputated, but none of the doctors wanted to take responsibility, so it was left until it was too late. By the time amputation was finally considered as a serious option, the infection had spread into the king’s body. King Alexander died of sepsis three weeks after the monkey brawl, at age 27.
Far reaching consequences flowed from those monkey bites. Alexander’s death resulted in the restoration of his deposed father. The new old king was not as friendly to the military – who had supported his deposition – as his son had been. Drastic cuts in military spending, and serious reorganizations, followed his return to the throne. The pro Entente premier Venizelos was also ousted. Those changes in the political environment led the British and French to question Greece’s commitment to the campaign in Turkey. As a result, they made their own peace deals with a resurgent Turkey. Between that and the military turmoil, the Greek invasion of Turkey ended in disaster and defeat. All because king Alexander and his dog messed with the wrong monkey.