King Alexander of Greece came to an undignified end, when he was taken out by a monkey. No, not that Alexander, the great conqueror of the ancient world, but a more recent one. This Alexander (1893 – 1920) reigned over the Kingdom of Greece from 1917 until he met an unfortunate end three years later. Less imposing than Alexander the Great, this Alexander is perhaps better known to history for the undignified manner of his death than for anything he accomplished in life.
Alexander became king in 1917 during World War I. He ascended the throne after the Allies forced his father to abdicate because he was pro German. Once Alexander took the throne, the pro Entente politician Eleutherios Venizelos became Greek premier. He dominated the king and government, and joined the war on the Allies’ side. After the Entente won, Venizelos and his puppet king were committed to an ambitious political platform called Great Greece. As seen below, that platform collapsed when His Majesty had an unfortunate run in with a monkey.
2. An Unfortunate Brawl With a Barbary Macaque Monkey
The Great Greece plan consisted of expanding the kingdom to encompass all the lands that had once been inhabited by Greeks, going back millennia. The expansion was to come at the expense of the defeated Ottoman Empire, which had been reduced to a rump that is now Turkey. So in 1919, with tacit French and British support, King Alexander ordered an invasion of Turkey, to seize the Ionian coast. Then a monkey intervened, and ensured that the king never got to see the end of that adventure.
It began with a visit to the Royal Gardens on September 30th, 1920. While strolling with his German Shepherd, Fritz, king and canine came across a Barbary macaque monkey. The dog attacked the monkey, which fought back. The king rushed forward to separate the brawling animals, but unbeknownst to him, the monkey had friends. Another monkey arrived at the scene, and seeing what appeared to be the king and a dog ganging up on his pal, joined the fray. He fell upon Alexander, and bit his leg and upper body several times.
King Alexander’s entourage heard the commotion, rushed to his aid, and chased the monkeys away. By then, the damage had already been done. The monkey bites became inflamed, and the king developed a serious infection. Doctors debated amputation of the leg, but none of them wanted to take responsibility, so it was left until it was too late. By the time amputation was considered once again, the infection had spread into the body. King Alexander died of sepsis three weeks after the animal fight, at age 27. Those monkey bites had far reaching consequences.
Alexander’s death resulted in the restoration of his deposed father. The restored king disliked the military, who had supported his deposition. So he drastically cut and reorganized the armed forces, and engineered the ouster of the pro Entente Premier Venizelos. That caused the French and British to question Greek commitment to the campaign in Turkey. As a result, they made their own deals with a resurgent Turkey. Between that and military turmoil, the Greek invasion of Turkey ended in a humiliating disaster and defeat. Crazy as it sounds, modern Greece and Turkey exist as they do today because a king and his dog picked the wrong monkey to mess with.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading