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This is a list of unusual deaths. This list includes only unique or extremely rare circumstances of death recorded throughout history, noted as being unusual by multiple sources. Oxford Dictionaries defines the word “unusual” as “not habitually or commonly occurring or done” and “remarkable or interesting because different from or better than others.”
Some other articles also cover deaths that might be considered unusual or ironic, including list of entertainers who died during a performance, list of inventors killed by their own inventions, list of association footballers who died while playing, list of professional cyclists who died during a race and the list of political self-immolations.
c. 620 BC: Draco, an Athenian lawmaker, was smothered to death by gifts of cloaks and hats showered upon him by appreciative citizens at a theatre on Aegina.
564 BC: Arrhichion of Phigalia, Greek pankratiast, caused his own death during the Olympic finals. Held by his unidentified opponent in a stranglehold and unable to free himself, Arrichion kicked his opponent, causing him so much pain that the opponent made the sign of defeat to the umpires, but at the same time breaking Arrichion’s neck. Since the opponent had conceded defeat, Arrichion was proclaimed the victor posthumously.
c. 475 BC: Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, in one account given by Diogenes Laërtius, was said to have been devoured by dogs after smearing himself with cow manure in an attempt to cure his dropsy.
455 BC: Aeschylus, the Athenian author of tragedies. According to Valerius Maximus, he was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his bald head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell of the reptile. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ, adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avert a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object.
430 BC: Empedocles, a Greek philosopher. According to Diogenes Laërtius, he tried to prove he was a god by leaping into Mount Etna, an active volcano.
401 BC: Mithridates, a Persian soldier who embarrassed his king, Artaxerxes II, by boasting of killing his rival, Cyrus the Younger (who was the brother of Artaxerxes II), was executed by scaphism. The king’s physician, Ctesias, reported that Mithridates survived the insect torture for 17 days.
288 BC: Agathocles, Greek tyrant, was murdered by a poisoned toothpick.
270 BC: Philitas of Cos, Greek intellectual, is said by Athenaeus to have studied arguments and erroneous word usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death. British classicist Alan Cameron speculates that Philitas died from a wasting disease which his contemporaries joked was caused by his pedantry.
210 BC: Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, whose artifacts and treasures include the Terracotta Army, died after ingesting several pills of mercury in the belief that it would grant him eternal life.
206 BC: One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, “…having laughed too much, he died” (Diogenes Laërtius 7.185).
163 BC: Eleazar Avaran, a biblical hero, rushed into a battle by thrusting his spear into the belly of a king’s elephant, which collapsed and fell on top of Avaran, killing him instantly.
258 AD: The deacon Saint Lawrence was roasted alive on a giant grill during the persecution of Valerian. Prudentius tells that he joked with his tormentors, “Turn me over—I’m done on this side”. He is now the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians.