History Of Pandemics

Plagues have been an ongoing problem for several thousand years. Wherever there is civilization or a large population then sickness is inevitable. There are plenty of pandemics throughout history, too many to list in this article. However it seems the Ancient Greeks were the first in recorded history to mention a pandemic, as the earliest recorded plague is in Athens around 430 BC. The Athenians caught typhoid affecting two-thirds of the population and this was a major reason why the Spartans prevailed in their war with Athens. So plagues and pandemics have proven to be able to change and alter the course of history.


The second known plague in human history happened in Ancient Rome. The Antonine plague took place 500 years later between 165 AD to 180 AD, it was a smallpox disease that was started by the Huns. Roman troops coming into contact with the Huns found themselves spreading the disease across Ancient Rome during this period. This plague lasted for about 15 years, one of its victims being a Roman Emperor. 


Unfortunately, the Romans would face another plague centuries later known as the Justinian Plague around 541 AD and it not only caused an economic depression in Rome, but the plague is also named after the current Emperor of the time Justinian who unfortunately was unable to keep the Roman Empire together because of this disease. The Justinian Plague actually is said to have slowed down Christianity's spread in Europe.  Disease has altered the course of history and has played an undeniable part in the fall of civilizations. No plague has been as infamous, however, as the Bubonic Plague which started around the 1300's. Of all the plagues and pandemics this is probably the most infamous one of all. It's the one teachers and historians talk the most about. Basically it consumed one-third of the world's entire population. The plague began in Italy around 1347 and became perhaps the deadliest plague in all of human history. Dead corpses littered the streets of Europe during this bleak period. Britain and France stopped going to war. The sickness also prevented the Vikings from further pursuing settlement in North America. If the plague hadn't been so profoundly destructive, perhaps the Vikings would have been credited for discovering North America instead of Columbus.  Interestingly enough Christopher Columbus and other European colonists contact with North America bought about a pandemic as well about a century and a half after the Bubonic Plague. The natives Columbus first encountered in 1492 had a population of about 60,000 people when he arrived. In about a half a century their population was almost non-existent at about 500 people. The diseases Columbus and other explorers brought were influential in destroying native communities. But the chaos didn't end there as other explorers and colonists had a detrimental effect on the native population. Around 1520 the Aztec Civilization fell apart primarily because of a disease that came from explorers and colonists. According to the History Channel, between the 1500 to 1600's a reported 56 million natives were victim to diseases carried by outside explorers. While the numbers are uncertain, explorers and colonists carried diseases that were detrimental to the natives of North America. The Spanish Flu occurred around 1918 and took about 50 million lives. One of the problems is that there was no medicine at the time that was able to cure or treat it. Luckily unlike history's earlier plagues and pandemics this one only lasted for a year and the spread ended around the summer of 1919. AIDS was first identified in 1981, and throughout the Reagan administration and even into the nineties it was notoriously difficult to treat, and took many people's lives especially within the gay community. Celebrities like Rock Hudson and Freddy Mercury died prematurely because of this disease. As of 2020, almost forty years into the diseases existence, there still isn't a known cure. But the upside is there are ways to treat it now and stop the spread that were not available thirty to forty years ago. Our current pandemic Covid-19 is continuing to affect people all over the world, and it remains uncertain what will happen in the immediate future. History has shown that diseases and pandemics can end civilizations, alter history, and change every aspect of life as we know it. But going forward we should take heart that we are more advanced in the sciences than we have ever been. We have better technology to deal with this than we did centuries ago. So we should stay optimistic in the face of something like this as opposed to living our lives in fear, as President FDR said "There is nothing to fear but fear itself".


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