University of Oulu

Juho-Antti Junno and others, The death of King Charles XII of Sweden revisited, PNAS Nexus, Volume 1, Issue 5, November 2022, pgac234,

The death of King Charles XII of Sweden revisited

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Author: Junno, Juho-Antti1,2; Niskanen, Markku1; Maijanen, Heli1;
Organizations: 1Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
2Department of Anatomy, Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
3Faculty of Medicine, Research Unit of Medical Imaging, Physics and Technology, University of Oulu, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
4Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Oulu University Hospital, Kajaanintie 50, 90220 Oulu, Finland
5Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Helsinki, Yliopistonkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
6Forensic Medicine Unit, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, FI-00271 Helsinki, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 7.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 2022
Publish Date: 2023-06-20


The death of King Charles XII of Sweden has remained as a mystery for more than three centuries. Was he assassinated by his own men or killed by the enemy fire? Charles was killed by a projectile perforating his skull from left to right. In this study, we utilized a Synbone ballistic skull phantom and modern radiological imaging to clarify the factors behind the observed head injuries. We examined whether a musket ball fired from the enemy lines would be the most potential projectile. Our experiments with a leaden 19.5 mm musket ball demonstrated that at velocities of 200 to 250 m/s, it could cause similar type of injuries as observed in the remains of Charles. The radiological imaging supported the theory that the projectile was not a leaden but of some harder metal, as we could detect remnants of lead inside the wound channel unlike in Charles’ case. In addition, our experiments showed that a 19.5mm musket ball  produces max. 17mm hole into a felt material  . The main evidence supporting 19.5 mm projectile size has been a 19‐19.5mm bullet hole in a hat that Charles was wearing during his death. Additional experiments with a 25.4 mm steel ball produced approximately 20 mm hole in the felt. As our musket ball experiments also resulted in considerably smaller cranial injuries than those in Charles’ case, we can conclude that the deadly projectile wasn’t leaden and was more than 19.5 mm in diameter, potentially an iron cartouche ball that was shot from the enemy lines.

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Series: PNAS nexus
ISSN: 2752-6542
ISSN-E: 2752-6542
ISSN-L: 2752-6542
Volume: 1
Issue: 5
Article number: pgac234
DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac234
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.