16 Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World

The Ancient and Hellenistic Greeks played an outsized role in shaping the world, giving us things such as philosophy, democracy, theater, the science of history, and otherwise laying the foundations of western civilization. Another thing they gave us was a plethora of titillating stories about fellow Greeks who died in some of the weirdest, most bizarre, and dramatic ways imaginable.

Following are sixteen of the Ancient Greek and Hellenistic world’s weirdest and/ or most dramatic deaths.

1. Antiquity’s Greatest Athlete Got Stuck in a Tree and Was Eaten Alive by Wolves

Milo of Croton (flourished 6th century BC) was the most celebrated athlete and wrestler of the Ancient Greek world, as well as a renowned warrior who led his fellow citizens to military victory. A strongman whose training regimen included carrying a bull on his shoulders, and whose daily diet reportedly included 20 pounds of meat, 20 pounds of bread, and 10 liters of wine, Milo’s string of athletic victories was unprecedented and unsurpassed. He dominated the quadrennial Panhellenic Games – the Olympic, Pythian, Nymean, and Isthmian games – for decades.

In antiquity, the inhabitants of Croton (modern Crotone in southern Italy) were famous for their physical strength, and the city produced generations of champions. In the 576 BC Olympics, for example, the first seven finishers in the 200 yard sprint, the stade, were all from Croton. Milo would end up surpassing all who came before him. All in all, during a stretch from 540 BC to about 516 BC, ancient sources credit Milo of Croton with winning the wrestling championship in six Olympic Games, seven Pythian Games, nine Nemean Games, and ten Isthmian Games.

‘Milo of Croton’, by Joseph Benoit Suvee. Wikimedia

In addition to being a star athlete, Milo was no mean shakes as a war leader. In 510 BC, the tyrant of the neighboring city of Sybaris banished some of its leading citizens, and was offended when Croton offered them refuge. Things escalated, especially after the philosopher Pythagoras, who spent much of his time in Croton, urged its citizens to use the dispute as a pretext to destroy Sybaris. In the ensuing war, Milo led the forces of Croton to victory while wearing his Olympic crowns, a lion skin, and wielding a club like Hercules.

His remarkable life came to a bizarre end one day while he was strolling through the woods, and came upon a tree trunk partially split with wedges. Always on the lookout for opportunities to challenge himself with feats of strength, Milo tried to rend the tree apart with his bare hands. However, the wedges fell off and his hands got stuck in the crack. It was bad day for the strongman. His predicament got worse when pack of wolves came upon him while he was struggling to free himself, and ate him alive.