Shakespeare in Plague-Ridden London

Despite the plague’s high contagiousness and terrifying symptoms, life in Elizabethan England went on. By Lindsey Rachel Hunt William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, in April of 2016. But, thanks to the plague’s many sweeps through London, he could have actually died much, much sooner. While the plague hit London particularly hard in 1665, it[…]

The Most Vulnerable Suffered when Ancient Greek City-States Purged during Times of Disease

The Greeks treated their city-states like bodies. To protect them from disasters, it was the poor that were often sacrificed. Introduction With the spread of the coronavirus, the world is becoming pointedly aware of the extent to which human beings are interconnected. The rapid spread of the virus has highlighted how much we are dependent[…]

The Cultural Constants of Contagion from the Justinian Plague to Today

It is a shared affliction, our collective ailment, our common humanity, that gives rise to irrational behavior but also kindness. Sometime during the year 541, a few rats found their way into Byzantium. Soon more would arrive in the city. Whether they came from ships unloading cargo in Constantinople’s bay, or overland in carts bringing[…]

A History of Tuberculosis since the Ancient World

The Code of Hammurabi and writings from ancient Greeks mention this “lung wasting” disease and their treatments for it. By Dr. John Frith Phthisis, Consumption, and the White Plague Overview A phthitic soldier is to his roommates what a glandered horse is to its stablemates.[1] Jean Antoine Villemin, French Army surgeon, 1865 Tuberculosis is an[…]

An Empire’s Epidemic: DNA Provides Answers to the Sixth-Century Plague

Disease-bearing mice from lower Egypt reached the harbor town of Pelusium in 540 CE. By Thomas H. Maugh IIStaff WriterLos Angeles Times Introduction By the middle of the 6th century, the Emperor Justinian had spread his Byzantine Empire around the rim of the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, laying the groundwork for what he hoped would[…]

Plagues Follow Bad Leadership in Ancient Greek Tales

Plagues functioned as a setup for an even more crucial theme in ancient myth: a leader’s intelligence. Introduction In the fifth century B.C., the playwright Sophocles begins “Oedipus Tyrannos” with the title character struggling to identify the cause of a plague striking his city, Thebes. (Spoiler alert: It’s his own bad leadership.) As someone who[…]

Medieval Hygiene: General Habits and Expectations

Urban centers especially had become centers of plague and disease outbreaks. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction People in the Middle Ages have acquired something of a bad reputation when it comes to cleanliness, especially the peasantry. However, despite the general lack of running water and other modern amenities, there were common expectations of personal hygiene such[…]

The Plague in Ancient Athens

The city-state of Sparta, and much of the eastern Mediterranean, was also struck by the disease. Introduction The Plague of Athens was a devastating epidemic that ravaged the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in 430 B.C.E., during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.), when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach.[…]

Why Ancient Plague Didn’t Lead to Widespread Epidemics as in the Medieval Era and Beyond

People caught and died from plague long before it caused major epidemics like the Black Death in the middle ages. Introduction One of civilization’s most prolific killers shadowed humans for thousands of years without their knowledge. The bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes the plague, is thought to be responsible for up to 200 million deaths[…]

Justinian’s Plague (541-542 CE)

The outbreak continued to sweep throughout the Mediterranean world for another 225 years, finally disappearing in 750 CE. Introduction During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE), one of the worst outbreaks of the plague took place, claiming the lives of millions of people. The plague arrived in Constantinople in 542 CE, almost[…]

The Plague at Athens, 430-427 BCE

The epidemic killed upwards of 1/3 of the population; a population which numbered 250,000-300,000 in the 5th century BCE. Introduction In the 2nd year of the Peloponnesian War, 430 BCE, an outbreak of plague erupted in Athens. The illness would persist throughout scattered parts of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean until finally dying out in[…]

The Black Death’s Economic Impact and Contribution to the Renaissance

The Black Death struck in 1348, 1362, 1368, 1381, and continued even into the 18th century. 1348 The Black Death arrived on European shores in 1348. By 1350, the year it retreated, it had felled a quarter to half of the region’s population. In 1362, 1368, and 1381, it struck again—as it would periodically well[…]