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Victims of Cyprian plague

Victims of Cyprian plague

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Tag Archives: Plague if Cyprian

Between roughly A.D. 250-271, a series of deadly epidemics swept through the Roman Empire – Egypt. The so-called Plague of Cyprian claimed approximately 25 percent of those living in the Roman Empire, which included Egypt at the time, As many as 5,000 victims died each day in Rome alone.

Saint Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (in Tunisia), wrote extensively of the plague’s horrific effects on its victims, and claimed that the disease signaled the end of the world. Cyprian wrote a detailed description of the progress of the disease in “De mortalitate:”

“The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth).” Cyprian added that the intestines “are shaken with a continual vomiting, the eyes are on fire with the injected blood,” and that in some instances, “the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction.”

Researchers believe the disease described by Cyprian was smallpox which is caused by the Variola major or minor viruses. The disease has been around for over 10.000 years. As in the picture, the victim is initially covered in a rash which becomes fluid-filled blisters. About 20-65% of the people who caught the disease died, but it was especially lethal among children. Those who survived were often badly scarred – especially on the face, were blinded, and their limbs might be deformed.

In 1967 the World Health Organization identified as many as fifteen million victims a year with two million dying from the disease. After vaccination campaigns for two centuries, smallpox was eradicated in 1979.

Cyprian’s Plague and the Insanity of Christian Service

I just finished with a two-week summer camp for 200 high school and middle school kids at St. Gabriel’s Parish in McKinney. It was an amazing, spirit-filled time. When we played, we had gigantic food fights when we worshiped, we danced and roared and when we served, we broke a sweat. It was everything a summer camp should be and we have pictures to prove it.

During the week, I was asked to give a talk on service, which, to be honest, isn’t my favorite thing to talk about. It’s not my favorite subject because everyone already thinks that serving is important. It’s like a mom telling her four-year-old to go get dirty. No need. I think the Catholic Church in America really likes to do service for this reason – no one is going to disagree. When faced with the options of talking about chastity, trying to get kids to participate in worship, or doing a service project, the latter is always the path of least resistance. Kids get service hours, parents get to be proud of their kids, ministers feel like we’ve served the kingdom, and everyone wins, right?

Unless no one’s hearts are converted. Then, we don’t win. So, being someone that likes a challenge, I decided to see just how high we could set the bar for Christian charity. The early church always did things the hard way, so I thought that would be a good place to start. I did some research and found the story of Cyprian’s Plague in Rome.

This plague, which many scientists believe to have been smallpox, raged from 250AD through 280AD. At it’s height, in this article by CNN, the author writes that “At its height the epidemic is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in the city of Rome alone. Among them were two Roman emperors: Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus.” Cyprian writes in “On Mortality” of the effects of the plague on the human body: The intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting the eyes are on fire with the infected blood that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction.”

The author of the CNN article believes that this plague contributed to the growth of Christianity because nothing makes you convert faster to a religion than facing your own mortality. To him, Christianity just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Any other religion would have experienced the same growth. Rodney Stark, the author of the book The Rise of Christianity, agrees that the Christian faith delivered a view of the afterlife that was highly attractive in such an unstable time. He writes that “though the plague terrified the pagans, Christians greeted the epidemic as merely “schooling and testing.” Thus, at a time when all other faiths were called to question, Christianity offered explanation and comfort. He goes on to say, however, that “Even more important[ly], Christian doctrine provided a prescription for action.” This is the part where it gets really, really interesting. He draws from Dionisus, a first-hand account of the Christian community, who describes how the Christian community heroically transformed into a battalion of nurses. “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains,” he explains.

That, my friends, is what Christian service looks like. Christian service is not something you do in your spare time. Christian service is a radical commitment to lay down your life for your neighbor. Stark goes on to estimate that in communities without a strong Christian nursing presence, 30% of the population died from the plague. In contrast, communities with a strong Christian presence, only 10% died from the plague. In Rome, when 5,000 people were dying every day, that is a difference of 1,500 vs 500. That’s 1000 lives saved a DAY. How many of those survivors do you think might have converted to Christianity? PROBABLY A LOT.
I’m taking three points from this that I wanted to communicate to my kids.

Volunteers give their spare time. Christians give their entire lives to service.

Volunteers serve to impact the physical world, Christians serve to impact the spiritual world. We serve in order to make Christ’s love known the way that He loved us.

We are an army and we do have an enemy. We have been commissioned to make the earth look as much like Heaven as we can. When we pray The Lord’s Prayer, we say the following so often that we can sometimes forget what we’re saying and what we’re really praying for: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In Heaven, there is no sickness. There is no despair, there is no poverty. Those are our enemies, and we fight our enemies to the death. That is what Christian service looks like.

Solving the Mystery of an Ancient Roman Plague

Church records from the third century could help identify the disease that nearly killed the empire.

The Plague of Cyprian, named after the man who by AD 248 found himself Bishop of Carthage, struck in a period of history when basic facts are sometimes known barely or not at all. Yet the one fact that virtually all of our sources do agree upon is that a great pestilence defined the age between AD 249 and AD 262.

Inscriptions, papyri, archaeological remains, and textual sources collectively insist on the high stakes of the pandemic. In a recent study, I was able to count at least seven eyewitnesses, and a further six independent lines of transmission, whose testimony we can trace back to the experience of the pestilence.

This article is adapted from Harper’s recent book.

What is starkly lacking, however, is a Galen. The previous century’s dumb luck of having a great and prolific doctor to guide us has run out. But, now, for the first time, we have Christian testimony. The church experienced a growth spurt during the generation of the plague, and the mortality left a deep impression in Christian memory. The pagan and Christian sources not only confirm one another. Their different tone and timbre give us a richer sense of the plague than we would otherwise possess.

The lack of a medical witness like Galen is partly compensated by the vivid account of the disease in Cyprian’s sermon on the mortality. The preacher sought to console an audience encircled by unfathomable suffering. It took no mercy on his Christians.

“The pain in the eyes, the attack of the fevers, and the ailment of all the limbs are the same among us and among the others, so long as we share the common flesh of this age.” Cyprian tried to ennoble the victims of the disease, likening their strength in pain and death to the heroic intransigence of the martyrs. Cyprian conjured the symptoms for his hearers.

These are adduced as proof of faith: that, as the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow that a fire that begins in the inmost depths burns up into wounds in the throat that the intestines are shaken with continuous vomiting that the eyes are set on fire from the force of the blood that the infection of the deadly putrefaction cuts off the feet or other extremities of some and that as weakness prevails through the failures and losses of the bodies, the gait is crippled or the hearing is blocked or the vision is blinded.

Cyprian’s account is central to our understanding of the disease. The pathology included fatigue, bloody stool, fever, esophageal lesions, vomiting, conjunctival hemorrhaging, and severe infection in the extremities debilitation, loss of hearing, and blindness followed in the aftermath. We can complement this record with more isolated and frankly uncertain hints from other witnesses. According to Cyprian’s biographer, the disease was characterized by acute onset: “carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house.”

The course of the infection and illness was terrifying. This impression is confirmed by another North African eyewitness, a Christian not far removed from the circle of Cyprian, who insisted on the sheer unfamiliarity of the disease. “Do we not see the rites of death every day? Are we not witnessing strange forms of dying? Do we not behold disasters from some previously unknown kind of plague brought on by furious and prolonged diseases? And the massacre of wasted cities?” The pestilence, he argued, was a manifest encouragement to martyrdom, since those who died the glorious death were spared the “common fate of others amidst the bloody destruction of ravaging diseases.”

The Plague of Cyprian was not just another turn through the periodic cycle of epidemic mortality. It was something qualitatively new—and the evocation of its “bloody” destruction may not be empty rhetoric, if hemorrhagic symptoms are implied.

The disease was of exotic origin and moved from southeast to northwest. It spread, over the course of two or three years, from Alexandria to other major coastal centers. The pandemic struck far and wide, in settlements large and small, deep into the interior of empire. It seemed “unusually relentless.” It reversed the ordinary seasonality of death in the Roman Empire, starting in the autumn and abating in the following summer. The pestilence was indiscriminate it struck regardless of age, sex, or station. The disease invaded “every house.”

One account predictably blamed the “corrupted air” that spread over the empire. But another chronicle tradition, going back to a good contemporary historian in Athens, recorded that the “disease was transmitted through the clothes or simply by sight.” The observation is notable in a culture without even a rudimentary sense of germs, the comment betrays a pretheoretical sense of contagion. The concern that the disease could be transmitted by clothing or eyesight suggests at least a dim awareness of an infectious origin. And it just might provide a further hint that the disease affected the eyes.

The ancients harbored plenty of eccentric notions about the powers of eyesight, among them that it was tactile, ejecting a flow of particulates from the eye of the looker. The bloody eyes of Cyprian’s victims may have presented a terrifying visage, in a culture where the eyes had the power to reach out and touch.

The death toll was grim. We have an intriguingly specific report from the bishop of Alexandria, who claimed that:

This immense city no longer contains as big a number of inhabitants, from infant children to those of extreme age, as it used to support of those described as hale old men. As for those from 40 to 70, they were then so much more numerous that their total is not reached now, though we have counted and registered as entitled to the public food ration all from 14 to 80 and those who look the youngest are now reckoned as equal in age to the oldest men of our earlier generation.

The reckoning implies that the city’s population had declined by about 62 percent (from something like 500,000 to 190,000). Not all of these need be dead of plague. Some may have fled in the chaos. And we can always suspect overheated rhetoric. But the number of citizens on the public grain dole is a tantalizingly credible detail, and all other witnesses agreed on the scale of the mortality. An Athenian historian claimed that 5,000 died each day. Witness after witness—dramatically if imprecisely—testified that depopulation was invariably the sequel of the pestilence. “The human race is wasted by the desolation of pestilence.”

These haphazard clues do not equip us well to identify the pathogenic agent of the Plague of Cyprian. But the range of suspects capable of causing a disease event of this scope is not large, and some possible agents can be almost certainly exculpated.

Bubonic plague does not fit the pathology, seasonality, or population-level dynamics. Cholera, typhus, and measles are remote possibilities, but each poses insuperable problems. Smallpox must be a serious candidate. The two-generation lapse between the episode under Commodus and the Plague of Cyprian means that effectively the entire population would have been susceptible again. The hemorrhagic form of the disease might also account for some of the features described by Cyprian.

But in all the case for smallpox is weak. A North African author claimed it was an unprecedented disease (though whether he would have had any memory of previous smallpox epidemics is of course questionable). None of our sources describe the full-body rash that is the distinctive feature of smallpox. In the church history of Eusebius, written in the early fourth century, an outbreak more like smallpox was recounted in AD 312–13. Eusebius both called this a “different illness” than the Plague of Cyprian and also distinctly described the pustular rash. The exotic origins of the third-century event, again from beyond the Roman Empire, do not suggest the eruption of a now-endemic pathogen. Finally, the putrescent limbs and permanent debilitation of the Plague of Cyprian are not a fit for smallpox. None of these clues are conclusive, but collectively they militate against the identification of smallpox.

Any identification must be highly speculative. We would offer two candidates for consideration. The first is pandemic influenza. The influenza virus has been responsible for some of the worst pandemics in human history, including the “Spanish flu” epidemic that carried off some 50 million souls at the end of World War I. The lack of clear evidence for influenza from the ancient world is puzzling, because the flu is old and it was undoubtedly not a stranger in the ancient world. Influenza is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease that comes in many forms. Most types are relatively mild, causing familiar cold-like symptoms. Other rare types of influenza are more menacing.

Zoonotic forms of the disease, especially those native in wild aquatic birds, can be pathogenic to other animals, including pigs, domestic fowl, and humans when these strains evolve the capacity to spread directly between humans, the results are catastrophic. There have been four global outbreaks in the last century, and avian influenza (which includes some dreaded strains such as H5N1) remains a terrifying threat today.

Pathogenic zoonotic influenzas are viciously lethal. They induce an overheated immune response which is as dangerous as the viral pneumonia itself hence, the young and healthy are paradoxically put at risk by the vigor of their immune response. The lack of any respiratory symptoms in the account of the Plague of Cyprian is a strike against the identification. But it is worth reading some observations of the 1918 pandemic.

Blood poured from noses, ears, eye sockets some victims lay in agony delirium took away others while living … The mucosal membranes in the nose, pharynx, and throat became inflamed. The conjunctiva, the delicate membrane that lines the eyelids, becomes inflamed. Victims suffer headache, body aches, fever, often complete exhaustion, cough … Often pain, terrific pain … Cyanosis … Then there was blood, blood pouring from the body. To see blood trickle, and in some cases spurt, from someone’s nose, mouth, even from the ears or around the eyes, had to terrify … From 5 to 15 percent of all men hospitalized suffered from epistaxis—bleeding from the nose.

Pandemic influenza might indeed account for the horrifying experience of the Plague of Cyprian.

The winter seasonality of the Plague of Cyprian points to a germ that thrived on close interpersonal contact and direct transmission. The position of the Roman Empire astride some of the major flyways of migratory birds, and the intense cultivation of pigs and domestic fowl such as chickens and ducks, put the Romans at risk. Climate perturbations can subtly redirect the migratory routes of wild waterfowl, and the strong oscillations of the AD 240s could well have provided the environmental nudge for an unfamiliar zoonotic pathogen to find its way into new territory. The flu is a possible agent of the pestilence.

A second and more probable identification of the Plague of Cyprian is a viral hemorrhagic fever. The pestilence manifested itself as an acute-onset disease with burning fever and severe gastrointestinal disorder, and its symptoms included conjunctival bleeding, bloody stool, esophageal lesions, and tissue death in the extremities. These signs fit the course of an infection caused by a virus that induces a fulminant hemorrhagic fever.

Viral hemorrhagic fevers are zoonotic diseases caused by various families of RNA viruses. Flaviviruses cause diseases like yellow fever and dengue fever, which have some resemblance to the symptoms described by Cyprian. But flaviviruses are spread by mosquitoes, and the geographic reach, speed of diffusion, and winter seasonality of the Plague of Cyprian rule out a mosquito-borne virus.

The speed of diffusion points to direct human-to-human transmission. The belief that caring for the sick and handling the dead were fraught with danger underscores the possibility of a contagion spread between humans. Only one family of hemorrhagic viruses seems to provide a best match for both the pathology and epidemiology of the Plague of Cyprian: filoviruses, whose most notorious representative is the Ebola virus.

Filoviruses are millions of years old. Fragments of their genetic material are anciently embedded in mammalian genomes, and for millions of years they have infected bats, insectivores, and rodents. Yet filoviruses, like Ebola virus and Marburg virus, were only recognized in the second half of the 20th century during a series of small-scale outbreaks. The Ebola epidemic of 2014 brought further attention to the family. The natural host of the Ebola virus remains unconfirmed, although bats are suspected. Ebola virus grabs public attention because of its ghastly clinical course and extreme case-fatality rates.

To cause an epidemic, the Ebola virus must first leap from its host species to a human this probably occurs when humans come into contact with infected bats or apes. Once infected, after a brief incubation period (on average four to 10 days, sometimes longer), victims suffer intense fever and a disease that breaks down multiple systems simultaneously, including gastrointestinal and vascular involvement. Conjunctival injection and severe hemorrhagic symptoms could well account for the disturbing reports of Cyprian. Tissue necrosis and permanent disfigurement of the limbs might reflect Cyprian’s description of extremities turning putrid and becoming irreversibly disabled.

Case-fatality rates, even with modern treatment, are grotesquely high: 50–70 percent. Death usually comes between days six and 16 survivors are thought to possess immunity. The Ebola virus is transmitted by bodily fluids, but not aerial droplets it spreads easily within households. Caregivers are at special risk, and cadavers remain a potent source of infection. The observance of traditional burial rites has been a problematic risk factor even in recent outbreaks.

Retrospective diagnosis from anguished reports of nonmedical personnel across nearly 2,000 years is never going to offer great confidence. But the hemorrhagic symptoms, the shocked sensibilities, and the insistence on the novelty of the disease all fit a filovirus. An agent like Ebola virus could diffuse as quickly as the Plague of Cyprian, but because of its reliance on body fluids for transmission, it could exhibit the slow-burning, “unusually relentless” dynamics that so struck contemporary observers. The obsession with deadly corpses in the third-century pandemic strikes a profound chord, given the recent experience of the Ebola virus. The uncertainty lies in our profound ignorance about the deep history of pathogens like Ebola that never became endemic in human populations.

As historians, we understandably default to the familiar suspects. But our broadening awareness of the incessant force of emerging disease, at the frontier between human society and wild nature, suggests a place for significant disease events in the past, like the Plague of Cyprian, caused by zoonotic diseases that wreaked havoc and then retreated back to their animal hosts.

By the time of the Plague of Cyprian’s appearance in AD 249 there was much that was different. The empire’s stores of reserve energy were depleted. Perhaps this microbial enemy was just more sinister. In this event, the center could not hold. There is much that must remain uncertain about the Plague of Cyprian, but not this: In its immediate wake, anarchy was loosed on the world.

New Evidence Surfaces About the “Plague of Cyprian”

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an epidemic in Egypt so terrible that one ancient writer believed the world was coming to an end.

Working at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru in the west bank of the ancient city of Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Egypt, the team of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL) found bodies covered with a thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant). The researchers also found three kilns where the lime was produced, as well as a giant bonfire containing human remains, where many of the plague victims were incinerated.

Pottery remains found in the kilns allowed researchers to date the grisly operation to the third century A.D., a time when a series of epidemics now dubbed the “Plague of Cyprian” ravaged the Roman Empire, which included Egypt. Saint Cyprian was a bishop ofCarthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the plague as signaling the end of the world. [See Photos of the Remains of Plague Victims & Thebes Site]

NFTU: In the “Life and Passion of St. Cyprian” written by the Deacon St. Pontius we have the moving account of St. Cyprian’s aid to the sick and indigent, Orthodox Christian and not:

9. Still, if it seem well, let me glance at the rest. Afterwards there broke out a dreadfulplague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of theplague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. In these circumstances, it would be a wrong to pass over what the pontiff of Christ did, who excelled the pontiffs of the world as much in kindly affection as he did in truth of religion. On the people assembled together in one place he first of all urged the benefits of mercy, teaching by examples from divine lessons, how greatly the duties of benevolence avail to deserve well of God. Then afterwards he subjoined, that there was nothing wonderful in our cherishing our own people only with the needed attentions of love, but that he might become perfect who would do something more than the publican or the heathen, who, overcoming evil with good, and practising a clemency which was like the divine clemency, loved even his enemies, who would pray for the salvation of those that persecute him, as the Lord admonishes and exhorts. God continually makes His sun to rise, and from time to time gives showers to nourish the seed, exhibiting all these kindnesses not only to His people, but to aliens also. And if a man professes to be a son of God, why does not he imitate the example of his Father? It becomes us, said he, to answer to our birth and it is not fitting that those who are evidently born of God should be degenerate, but rather that the propagation of a goodFather should be proved in His offspring by the emulation of His goodness.

10. I omit many other matters, and, indeed, many important ones, which the necessity of a limited space does not permit to be detailed in more lengthened discourse, and concerning which this much is sufficient to have been said. But if the Gentiles could have heard these things as they stood before the rostrum, they would probably at once have believed. What, then, should a Christian people do, whose very name proceeds from faith? Thus the ministrations are constantly distributed according to the quality of the men and their degrees. Many who, by the straitness of poverty, were unable to manifest the kindness ofwealth, manifested more than wealth, making up by their own labour a service dearer than all riches. And under such a teacher, who would not press forward to be found in some part of such a warfare, whereby he might please both God the Father, and Christ the Judge, and for the present so excellent a priest? Thus what is good was done in the liberality of overflowing works to all men, not to those only who are of the household of faith. Something more was done than is recorded of the incomparable benevolence of Tobias. He must forgive, and forgive again, and frequently forgive or, to speak more truly, he must of right concede that, although very much might be done before Christ, yet that something more might be done after Christ, since to His times all fullness is attributed. Tobias collected together those who were slain by the king and cast out, of his own race only.

11. Banishment followed these actions, so good and so benevolent. For impiety always makes this return, that it repays the better with the worse. And what God’s priest replied to the interrogation of the proconsul, there are Acts which relate. In the meantime, he is excluded from the city who had done some good for the city’s safety he who had striven that the eyes of the living should not suffer the horrors of the infernal abode he, I say, who, vigilant in the watches of benevolence, had provided— oh wickedness! Withunacknowledged goodness— that when all were forsaking the desolate appearance of the city, a destitute state and a deserted country should not perceive its many exiles. But let the world look to this, which accounts banishment a penalty. To them, their country is too dear, and they have the same name as their parents but we abhor even our parents themselves if they would persuade us against God. To them, it is a severe punishment to live outside their own city to the Christian, the whole of this world is one home. Wherefore, though he were banished into a hidden and secret place, yet, associated with the affairs of his God, he cannot regard it as an exile. In addition, while honestly serving God, he is a stranger even in his own city. For while the continency of the Holy Spirit restrains him from carnal desires, he lays aside the conversation of the former man, and even among his fellow citizens, or, I might almost say, among the parents themselves of his earthly life, he is a stranger. Besides, although this might otherwise appear to be a punishment, yet in causes andsentences of this kind, which we suffer for the trial of the proof of our virtue, it is not a punishment, because it is a glory. But, indeed, suppose banishment not to be a punishment to us, yet the witness of their own conscience may still attribute the last and worstwickedness to those who can lay upon the innocent what they think to be a punishment. I will not now describe a charming place and, for the present, I pass over the addition of all possible delights. Let us conceive of the place, filthy in situation, squalid in appearance, having no wholesome water, no pleasantness of verdure, no neighbouring shore, but vast wooded rocks between the inhospitable jaws of a totally deserted solitude, far removed in the pathless regions of the world. Such a place might have borne the name of exile, ifCyprian, the priest of God, had come there although to him, if the ministrations of men had been wanting, either birds, as in the case of Elias, or angels, as in that of Daniel, would haveministered. Away, away with the belief that anything would be wanting to the least of us, so long as he stands for the confession of the name. So far was God’s pontiff, who had always been urgent in merciful works, from needing the assistance of all these things.

Look to History to Learn How Christians Responded (Good and Bad) to Epidemics, Baylor Distinguished Professor Says

WACO, Texas (April 7, 2020) &ndash As COVID-19 has caused churches across the world to restrict in-person gatherings and completely change the way worship is approached, many are grappling with what Christian faith looks like right now.

Baylor University&rsquos Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History and co-director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion, led the recent webinar &ldquoEpidemics: How the Church Has Responded Throughout History&rdquo for a group made up mostly of self-described pastors from throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Jenkins began the lecture by offering an unexpected word of encouragement.

&ldquoWe are almost returning to a historical normal for the Church. Through human history, plagues and diseases and epidemics have been an absolutely normal feature of life. For those of us who have grown up in the last hundred years, this was something that happened in other eras and in other places,&rdquo said Jenkins. &ldquoNormality has returned. The Church has to deal with what has historically been its normal situation.&rdquo

Jenkins went on to posit several questions related to the Church and epidemics. The following outlines those questions paired with Jenkins&rsquo answers, which relate a long history of Christian response to plague with what we are experiencing today.

Q: How has the Church responded throughout history to epidemics?

JENKINS: When the Bible looks at plagues and epidemics, it reflects a worldview that sees those as being directly imposed by God, commonly as a punishment. You can find many stories of this. For instance, in Numbers 25 you find the story of Phineas. The children of Israel have misbehaved. They've betrayed God's orders and God sends a plague to punish them. It's a very, very disturbing story in so many ways, but the idea was it was something that came from God.

All through history Christians have had to decide how to live with this. They know God sends plagues, so what do they do? But in a sense, they were normally much less concerned with thinking about those issues of causation as they were response. How did ordinary Christians, how did Christian clergy respond?

The worst thing that some communities, if they believed God was angry, would do is they would organize great communal gatherings to show public penance. In old times, Christians went out to assist patients personally, and now today we know that is the worst thing to do in cases demanding quarantine or isolation. Those are some of the most effective ways of spreading the disease. But others turned to scriptural resources and looked for different ways of expressing trust in hope. In so many cases, what they did not only preserved the church, but expanded it.

In the 250s Roman Empire, a time when Christianity was strictly forbidden, a deadly plague struck the empire. Out of that, Christians oddly took comfort. We have letters from some of the greatest Christian leaders of the time. What they wrote is still some of the most inspiring literature you will ever read about plague and pestilence.

Dionysius says, for us, this is a kind of festival. What he is not saying in that disturbing-sounding remark is that all the pagans are going to die. He's saying that pagans are going to die, Christians are going to die, but this gives us an opportunity to live up to the Gospel. A plague is a time of schooling, a time of education. He also says that this is virtually martyrdom. It is a kind of martyrdom. We are giving our lives for others. He says that Christians went out into plague and disease-stricken neighborhoods, they gave comfort and aid to sick people, although they knew very well that they were going to catch the disease themselves.

Other people, when they observed the Christians doing this, were very interested, were very impressed. That is one of the great moments of growth of the Christian Church.

Bishop Cyprian says, &ldquoWhat credit is it to us Christians if we just help Christians? Anyone can do that. We have to help not just the household of faith, but everyone.&rdquo These people had no capacity to heal something like the plague. What they had was the capacity to aid victims to make their last hours as easy as possible to bring them those consolations and comforts.

Q: What are some of the issues that Christian leaders had to face?

JENKINS: The Reformation occurred at a time of some absolutely horrible outbreaks of plague. Martin Luther, who had opinions about absolutely everything, wrote a wonderful essay, which still repays reading today, on whether it was legitimate for Christians to flee from the plague. The question seems strange, but what he was thinking was if plague is sent by God, who are we to resist it? Should we not just suffer and die and stay in place? And Luther, who was a very practical man, said, &ldquoAbsolutely not.&rdquo Christians through history have fled from danger. What he did say is that Christians have a duty to stay and help as best they can.

If you imagine living in a world where plagues and epidemics were so strong, as opposed to what we regard as this bizarre visitation, assume you thought this was normal, just think how that might reconstruct the way you view your life. There&rsquos a lot of literature on this. People made a point of saying, &lsquowe rely on things like strength, money, power, beauty. None of those will defend us. We have to rely on God.&rsquo That idea of reliance is so strong.

In England in 1665, plague breaks out. It hits a couple of big cities, but thankfully it does not spread far beyond those cities. In a small village called Eyam, there was a cloth merchant who orders samples from London. The cloth samples bring fleas, fleas bring plague and people start to die. And then the people in that village do something which earns them a place in the Christian story.

The village is absolutely divided on the middle between an Anglican, William Mompesson, who is their rector, and a Puritan minister called Thomas Stanley who agree on nothing. But Mompesson and Stanley agree that the plague is so dangerous that the people of the whole village must self-isolate, must cut themselves off from the rest of the world even at the cost of their own lives. Because if they flee, if they go to nearby great cities, then pretty soon the plague will spread through the rest of England and instead of a few hundred people dying, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will die. Today we hear about self-isolation and social distancing and my thoughts always go back to that village, Eyam.

Q: We live in a world where we now know where plagues and epidemics come from and how to mitigate their spread. How do we understand something like this today? What are the resources we can use?

JENKINS: We, for many years, have lived in an age of comfort when we thought the world was constantly improving. Suddenly, we have to think about very basic realities. We have to rethink so many of our assumptions about the foundations of our society, our faith, and we realize that so many of those evils are not things that happened in distant times and different places. They are happening here and now with us.

Perhaps one of the most influential texts that Christians have referred to is Psalm 91. I strongly recommend that you read it. It&rsquos about not being afraid of the pestilence that walks at night nor the arrow that flies by day. It&rsquos a song and hymn about confidence and trust. Whenever there has been a plague, Christians have turned to Psalm 91 because it represents a hope that they will survive, that they will manage to last as long as they can, that they will get through, their families will get though. But, there&rsquos always in those invocations a sense of realism.

The great Baptist leader Charles Spurgeon, in the 19th century, said that in a time of disease, of epidemic, of cholera, the greatest weapon that the Christian had was Psalm 91. Spurgeon was not unrealistic. He knew that good Christians died of plague, but he was saying if you wanted to find hope and comfort, if not in this world, then the world to come, where you found it was in something like Psalm 91.

As Dionysius said, I think an epidemic, a plague, can be and should be a schooling and there are many lessons. We will get so many of them wrong. But, can I stress this? There are such rich resources in the Christian tradition, and maybe now more than ever, we need to be looking at that Christian history. All ages are equidistant from eternity. We and Bishop Dionysius and the rector of Eyam all live in one age before God. What I am suggesting is that they have lessons for us.

How do Christians respond to plagues during the modern health care age, especially for people who want to respond as the early church did by being present with the sick, but also caring for themselves and their households?

JENKINS: I am anything but a medical professional. There is so much advice out there from expert authorities, from medical authorities, from the CDC, from government agencies on this and Christians need to follow that absolutely scrupulously. But, for example, they can be in communication with people who might be alone or isolated. They can find out about people who are in need and try to get them the resources they can while following absolutely all of those protections. It seems to me that Christians can be perfectly proactive in finding out about situations like that.

The point is we live in an age where we have these very educated, qualified, informed authorities who followed the divine light within them to produce all this knowledge. We obey that, but we can still be helpfully nosy, and there are still ways of getting safe items and products to people who need them. I think one of the greatest things is expressing concern.


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The Plagues That Might Have Brought Down the Roman Empire

Bioarcheologists are getting better at measuring the toll of ancient pathogens.

What brought down the Roman Empire? By the end of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, even the great historian Edward Gibbon was sick of the question. He noted that instead of speculating about the reasons for Rome’s long, slow collapse between (depending on whom you ask) the third and seventh centuries C.E., we should instead marvel that it lasted so long in the first place.

Still, something keeps historians fascinated by the fall of Rome. Proposed explanations include mass lead poisoning (mostly disproved) and moral decay (somewhat difficult to test). One hugely influential revisionist theory holds that Rome never fell at all—it simply transformed into something unrecognizable. In response to this “transformation” interpretation, historians have more recently insisted that late antiquity was characterized above all by violence, death, and economic collapse—an idea most aggressively championed in Bryan Ward-Perkins’ 2005 book, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.

While we may never be able to pinpoint one reason for the death of the Roman Empire, historians are inching ever closer to understanding what life was like for its residents as their world crumbled. Two especially innovative papers published in the latest issue of the Journal of Roman Archaeology ask what role epidemic disease played in the twilight of the Roman Empire. The first, by University of Oklahoma historian Kyle Harper, addresses the so-called Plague of Cyprian in the middle of the turbulent 3rd century C.E. The other, written by Harper’s former professor Michael McCormick, a professor of medieval history at Harvard University, takes on the 6th-century C.E. Plague of Justinian.

In the case of the latter plague, we know the offending pathogen. In a blitz of research over the past decade, three teams of scientists have positively and independently identified DNA from Yersinia pestis—the same bacterium responsible for the Black Death—in skeletons known to date from the time of the Justinianic plague.

Ancient sources make the Justinianic plague sound positively apocalyptic. According to one account, the people of Constantinople—which was by that point the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire—died at such enormous rates that the emperor Justinian had to appoint a special officer in charge of coordinating the removal of corpses from the city’s streets. The unlucky appointee, whose name was Theodore, arranged to have the bodies carted across the Golden Horn to Galata, which is now an upscale Istanbul neighborhood. In a gruesomely vivid passage, eyewitness John of Ephesus describes the process.

“[Theodore] made very large pits, inside each of which 70,000 corpses were laid down. He thus appointed men there, who brought down corpses, sorted them and piled them up. They pressed them in rows on top of each other, in the same way as someone presses hay in a loft . Men and women were trodden down, and in the little space between them the young and infants were pressed down, trodden with the feet and trampled down like spoilt grapes.”

Despite the overwhelming numbers of corpses described in this and other textual sources, no ancient mass graves have yet been found by archaeologists in Galata or, indeed, in any other neighborhood of Istanbul. In fact, no burial pits containing anywhere near 70,000 skeletons have been found anywhere in the Mediterranean, whether dating to the 6th century or to any other period. Historians have good reason to be skeptical of any numbers mentioned in ancient texts, but there’s no doubt that the Justinianic plague claimed enormous numbers of victims across the Mediterranean. Where have all the corpses gone?

As McCormick points out, the incompleteness of archaeological excavations—and especially those in major cities, where obtaining permits and digging around modern infrastructure presents serious challenges—must contribute to the lack of known Justinianic “plague pits.” In fact, the one major Roman city of the 6th century that has been thoroughly excavated, Jerusalem, has been found to contain several mass graves, three of which held over a hundred individual skeletons.

But even if such pits could be found, they wouldn’t account for the full scale of the Justinianic Plague. While cities tend to dominate the historical record due to their concentration of the rich and powerful, the ancient world was overwhelmingly agrarian.

Influenced by the archaeology of the Black Death in London, generations of archaeologists have assumed that mass mortality events go hand in hand with large, communal burials. A close examination of the textual sources reveals, however, that even in London plague pits were not employed until the city’s usual burial places were exhausted. It follows, then, that smaller settlements in the countryside may never have faced the same burial crises as large cities: The combination of more open space and fewer people would have meant that the majority of the population may never have had to change its burial practices.

One case described by McCormick illustrates and supports this hypothesis beautifully. While analyzing DNA taken from skeletons found in a seemingly unremarkable 6th-century cemetery in the German town of Aschheim, just outside of Munich, scientists were shocked to find that eight individuals’ bones contained traces of Y. pestis DNA. Genetic material degrades over time, so finding six separate, securely identifiable instances is, in fact, a huge deal: It’s likely that many more of the individuals buried in the cemetery were also victims of the Justinianic Plague.

Because the Aschheim cemetery served as the primary burial spot for residents of the small town before, during, and after the Justinianic Plague, the bones found within it are likely to reflect the actual population of the settlement with a high degree of accuracy. As a result, archaeologists can use the skeletal evidence to get a sense of the effect the plague had on this discrete population. The resulting model is shocking: based on cemetery data, “this small rural settlement will have lost a minimum of 35-53 percent of its population within the space of a few months” in 555 C.E., a loss from which it would never fully recover.

The Aschheim case proves that archaeologists should be looking for victims of the Justinianic Plague in any 6th-century settlement that was connected to the late Roman world, regardless of how small or far from Constantinople it is. The work involved will be enormous, but the data collected from this newly exploded pool of potential plague burials will begin to fill in the gaps in our understanding of how devastating the Justinianic Y. pestis outbreak really was.

By contrast, the microbe responsible for Harper’s chosen epidemic, the 3rd-century Plague of Cyprian, remains stubbornly unidentifiable despite various historians’ guesses ranging from smallpox to measles. Tissue taken from skeletons buried around the time of the epidemic in mass graves recently uncovered in Egypt and Rome will surely be analyzed thoroughly. The micro-bioarchaeological methods integral to McCormick’s research, however, seem unlikely to bear fruit for the Plague of Cyprian: relying on ancient descriptions of the disease, Harper argues that the epidemic was probably an outbreak of a viral hemorrhagic fever similar to Yellow Fever or Ebola.

To be sure, the frightening list of symptoms provided by Cyprian (the Carthaginian bishop and eyewitness for whom the plague is named) will sound familiar to anyone who followed the recent West African outbreak of the Ebola virus.

“As the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow a fire that begins in the inmost depths burns up into wounds in the throat. the intestines are shaken with continuous vomiting . the eyes are set on fire from the force of the blood . as weakness prevails through the failures and losses of the bodies, the gait is crippled or the hearing is blocked or the vision is blinded . ”

Unlike bacteria, the majority of viruses—including the Arenaviruses, Flaviviridae, and Filoviruses responsible for viral hemorrhagic fevers—transmit their genetic information via RNA alone. The single strands of RNA are much more fragile than DNA’s double helix, and so are poorly equipped to survive the ravages of time.

Faced with the unlikelihood of genetic evidence, Harper relies on less high-tech methods to figure out how severe the Plague of Cyprian really was. Instead of bones, his evidence is a body of 23 textual sources—some contemporary with the plague and some written much later—that largely frame the epidemic in terms of religious polemic. Plagues in the Mediterranean antiquity, as in many other periods of history, were frequently understood to be supernatural as well as physical disasters. Because the 3rd century was a crucial time of growth and definition for the early Christian church, the Plague of Cyprian came to take on a deep spiritual meaning for pagan and Christian alike.

For Bishop Cyprian, the plague that came to bear his name was hard proof of the superiority of Christianity over traditional Roman religion. Seeing the pestilence as an opportunity to put their most deeply-held beliefs into action, early Christians beatifically set about caring for the sick and giving proper burials to the dead.

On the other side of the religious divide, the pagan establishment was overwhelmed with fear. Traditionally, Roman priests interpreted epidemics as a sign of displeasure from the gods. Evidence in the form of new iconography on coins and references to extraordinary state-organized sacrifices suggests that the Plague of Cyprian was no different. As Harper notes, sources agree that, “the epidemic undermined the social fabric of pagan society” while “the orderly response of the Christian community, especially in the burial of the dead, presented a stark contrast.”

The clearly biased language of both Christian and pagan sources has caused many scholars to discount them as religious propaganda—despite the fact that, if you strip away the pontification, the Christian and pagan accounts agree on all major points, most importantly how contagious, painful, and deadly the disease was. The tendency of some witnesses to slip into stock phrases taken from classic literary descriptions of plagues in Thucydides and Vergil has similarly worked to discredit the textual evidence—unfairly, as Harper argues, because quoting major cultural touchstones was an extremely common way of processing and even emphasizing the severity of shared trauma in antiquity. The disease, he concludes, was one of the nails in the Roman Empire’s coffin, and an important milestone in the growth of early Christianity.

Distinct as their methods are, Harper’s and McCormick’s articles both open up stunning, if gruesome, new vistas on the biological landscape of late antiquity. McCormick’s reevaluation of plague burials makes it clear that the Justinianic Plague spread far beyond major cities, reaching well into Europe’s hinterland—and that historians and archaeologists have likely severely underestimated of the scale and scope of ancient epidemics.

On the other hand, Harper’s careful reanalysis of religious screeds makes clear the necessity of revisiting old textual evidence to reconstruct plagues for which physical evidence is likely to remain elusive. What’s more, the spiritual nature of Harper’s texts reveals how genuinely terrifying the disease regime of late antiquity was. For early Christians, the devastation was something of an opportunity, but for adherents of Rome’s traditional religion, the waves of disease that unrelentingly crashed down on the Mediterranean world were nothing less than the end of the world.

The Modern Fight Against Infectious Diseases

There are many ways to narrate the modern fight against infectious diseases. You can read about it by sickness, by cure, by approach, by discovery–and still never run out of material. To simplify, let’s take a look at how our modern response to new diseases eventually developed.


In the 1100s, 1104 to 1110 CE, the Black Death (plague) is first thought to have hit Europe. At that time, Europe had only just begun building lepers’ hospitals to keep them away from society. The thought of isolating victims of any other kind of disease, to keep it from spreading, had not reached medical or public knowledge. As a result, 90% of the European population was lost to the plague.

In the 1300s, the Black Death (bubonic plague) came back to Europe with a vengeance, through trade ships in the Mediterranean to Italy. While it spread quickly and took many lives, people recognized that contact with infected people and items made it easier for them to contract the same disease. The first attempt to isolate those with the disease came when ports started to deny entry to ships they suspected of coming from places where the disease was already spreading.

They imposed a period of 30 days of isolation, extending it later to 40 (for mainly socio-religious reasons). Forty, quarante, is why it’s called a quarantine. As the plague victims literally piled up, they buried the bodies in mass graves far away from the city, also to contain the disease. Eventually, victims and their caregivers were placed in houses outside the city. The authorities even went so far as to seal up some houses with the plague inside before it could spread.

Those were the first attempts to isolate those with diseases so it would not spread. Today, it is one of the first responses when a new, fast-spreading virus is identified in a geographic location.


After the Europeans recognized the need for quarantine and that it actually worked, the next logical step was understanding how a disease spreads.

Girolamo Fracastoro, who lived in the 1450s to the 1550s, was born in Verona, Italy. (Yes, the same setting as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.) He was working as a physician when the syphilis plague broke out from the 1490s to the 1500s. In fact, his poem called “Syphilis or the Gallic Disease” was what gave that plague its name. All they knew was that it was a sexually transmitted disease, and that sailors were most likely to spread it.

As he studied syphilis and other diseases, Fracastoro was the first to suggest that diseases actually had “seeds” that would grow in a host and affect them, causing the disease. Not only that, like a flowering tree, it would spread seeds to others as well. He proposed three means of disease transmission that are familiar to us: person-to-person transmission, transmission through infected items, and airborne transmission.

While it would take 300 years for his theories to make a difference, it was a crucial turning point in containing and limiting the spread of disease through isolation or destruction of contaminated items.


Even if the medical world was starting to realize that diseases had “seeds,” they were still very much bound by generalizations about diseases. In other words, they treated all diseases alike. It was only in the 1600s to the 1700s that some scientists and researchers realized that different signs and symptoms meant different diseases. If the diseases could be differentiated, they could be individually studied for causes. When causes of disease were learned, it would greatly help in finding cures.

Thomas Sydenham, who was a British practicing physician in the 1600s, is known for a cool head when it came to medical theories. If a fever or sickness could run its course without killing the victim (to his knowledge), he would let it. As a result, his observations on how different kinds of “fever” affected the victims became a basis for differentiating diseases from one another. He was one of those to identify scarlet fever, which tended to cause epidemics.

Giovanni Morgagni, an Italian physician who lived from the late 1600s to 1700s, furthered the understanding of differentiating one disease from another. Despite his closeness to the Roman Catholic Church, Morgagni was intent on discovering more about what science could reveal about sicknesses. His specialty was anatomy, the human body, and his experience showed him firsthand how different diseases affected the body differently.

It may seem straightforward to us today, but at the time, identifying what made one disease different from another was a breakthrough. Theories of how to treat diseases were leaving the speculative and entering the scientific.


In the late 1700s, Edward Jenner realized that those who got the milder, rarely-fatal cowpox were unaffected by the smallpox epidemics that swept back and forth across Europe. To demonstrate his theory, he infected a boy with the cowpox and showed how he became immune to smallpox. It took a while for the idea to catch on, but Europe eventually became fully inoculated with smallpox. This knowledge grew up between the ability to differentiate diseases, and the later full germ theory of infection Louis Pasteur proposed.


The medical world now knew that quarantine or isolation would limit the spread of a disease, that there were several kinds of disease transmission, and that different diseases had different effects on the human body. Now it learned something else: the origin of diseases. Even though they discovered how infection “seeds” were transmitted, it was mainly basic theory. They did not yet know what, exactly, was being transmitted.

Although the microscope was invented in the late 1500s, it was only used to isolate causes of infection by the 1800s. Louis Pasteur, a familiar name, first used the microscope to study the origin of microorganisms. He discovered that it was microorganisms in milk that turned it sour over time. If microorganisms in milk would make it unfit to drink, what if microorganisms in human bodies made them sick in the same way?

As the 1900s entered, Robert Koch successfully isolated the bacteria of only one disease, anthrax. After gathering the bacteria from an infected host, he placed the bacteria into healthy mice and proved that they became infected by anthrax. More than that, the bacteria that grew in their infected blood was the same as what was first introduced into their bodies. Koch finally proved that diseases originated with microorganisms that infected human bodies.

They also finally discovered that different strains of bacteria could be related, and that one kind of bacteria could cause more than one disease. While disease strains could evolve and reappear, it would now be faster to identify the attack and how to treat it.

Naming and Interpretation

Cyprian (Latin: Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus c. 200 – September 14, 258 CE) was bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. / Photo by ACBahn, Wikimedia Commons

The outbreak was named after Cyprian as his first-hand observations of the illness largely form the basis for what the world would come to know about the crisis. He wrote about the incident in stark detail in his work De Mortalitate (“On Mortality”). Sufferers experienced bouts of diarrhoea, continuous vomiting, fever, deafness, blindness, paralysis of their legs and feet, swollen throats and blood filled their eyes (conjunctival bleeding) while staining their mouths. More often than not, death resulted. The source of the terrible affliction was interpreted by pagans as a punishment from the gods. This was not an unusual interpretation from a pre-Christian or early Christian culture throughout the Mediterranean world which understood disease to be supernatural in origin. Later scholars and historians sought alternative explanations.

10 Pandemics in History That Brought Drastic Social & Economic Changes Globally

You would be shocked to read about these worst pandemics in history. These pandemics had an inevitable impact on the world.

It's been a month that everyone is sitting at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Though doctors are finding a way to cure this disease, they are recommending staying home and not going to crowded places as the best solution to prevent Coronavirus. It is not the only pandemic that killed thousands of people and has affected the human lifestyle.

History has recorded several pandemics that sickened millions of people around the globe. Let us read about the worst pandemics in history that ended up killing millions of people.

1. Flu Pandemic or Spanish Flu

Flu pandemic or Spanish Flu was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. It lasted for over a year from 1918 to 1919 and affected 500 million people worldwide. This Spanish Flu had killed more people in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years.

It was caused by a virus that got transmitted from person to person through respiratory secretions. The Flu pandemic occurred in three waves. The first appeared during World War I.

During this time, it spread through Western Europe and then to Poland. The third wave occurred in the winter and lasted till spring. It affected people who are 20-40 years old.

2. Plague of Athens: 430 B.C.

The Plague of Athens devastated the city-state of Athens during the second year of the Peloponnesian War. It killed over 100,000 people. It is believed that the Plague of Athens was similar to typhoid and smallpox.

The Greek historian Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) wrote that "people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath" (translation by Richard Crawley from the book 'The History of the Peloponnesian War,' London Dent, 1914). Despite the epidemic, the war didn’t end and continued till 404 BC.

3. Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian affected the Eastern Empire and mainly Constantinople and the entire Mediterranean Sea. It was believed that the Plague of Justinian was the deadliest pandemics in history and killed around 50-100 million people around the world.

In 2013, the researchers confirmed that the cause of this deadly plague was Yersinia pestis. It was the same bacteria that was responsible for Black Death. According to sources, the outbreak was carried by infected rats that arrived on grain ships that came from Egypt.

The number of deaths due to the Plague of Justinian is uncertain, but it is believed that it killed over 5000 people per day in Constantinople.

4. Influenza Pandemic or Asian Flu

It was a global pandemic of influenza A virus subtype H2N2 and killed over 1 million worldwide. A virus subtype H2N2 was the recombination of the human influenza virus and avian influenza.

It was first identified in East Asia in 1957 and then spread to other countries. It was the second-worst pandemic in the 20th century after the influenza pandemic in 1918-1919.

The individuals who got infected through this virus showed symptoms of fever and major complications like pneumonia. The vaccine was made to treat H2N2, and then it limited the spread. It has a low mortality rate but resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

5. Antonine Plague

The Antonine Plague, or also called the Plague of Galen, has claimed the life of Lucius Verus (co-emperor of Rome). It was first identified during the siege of Seleucia, and then it spread in the Roman army camp.

The army came into contact with merchants and locals there and fueled its spread. The plague killed a quarter of the individuals affected. It is believed that Antonie Plague killed nearly 2000 people per day and estimated to kill 5 million people.

Common symptoms associated with Antonine Plague were vomiting, fever, coughing, and inflammation. This might not be the majorly known Plague in Europe, but it was very close to crumbling the entire empire.

6. Great Plague of London: 1665-1666

The Great Plague of London lasted from 1655 to 1666 and killed over 100,000 people. It was caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and was transmitted through the infected rat. The plague affected the poor, as the rich people left the city by retiring to their country estates.

It majorly affected London but spread in other cities as well. The village of Eyam in Derbyshire was affected when the merchant brought a parcel of cloth sent from London. People there quarantined themselves to stop the spread of the disease. By the time the plague ended, it had killed 15% of the London population.

7. Third Cholera Pandemic

The third cholera pandemic was the worst pandemic that occurred in India that lasted until 1863. It had the highest fatalities in Europe, Asia, and North America. It spread from the Ganges River and then entered other areas.

John Snow, a popular British physician, worked on the cases of Cholera and then identified the cause of the disease. He identified that contaminated water was the reason for the transmission of this disease.

A combination of sanitation and hygiene and oral cholera vaccines were used to cure this disease. In 1854, over 23,000 people died in Britain alone due to cholera. After the pump handle was removed, the cases for cholera immediately declined.

8. Plague of Cyprian

The Plague of Cyprian is another worst pandemic in history that affected the Roman Empire from AD249 to 262. It first occurred in Ethiopia around the Easter of 250CE. It killed nearly 5000 people every day.

Symptoms experienced by the sufferers include blindness, swollen throats, paralysis, and blood-filled in the eyes. Based on the survey, it was found that the disease could be transmitted by direct or indirect contact.

The plague was named after the first known victim, the Christian bishop of Carthage. The locals fled to the country to prevent themselves from infection, but they spread the disease more. It started in Ethiopia and then spread through Egypt and northward.

9. The Black Death

The Black Death that affected Europe from 1348 to 1351 infected 200 millions of people worldwide. Several theories were published revealing the cause of the Black Death, but the popular opinion was that this deadly disease was caused by pockets of bad air. Some believed that Jewish people were responsible for black death. It was estimated that this disease wiped out nearly over half of Europe’s population.

It is thought to have originated in Asia and then spread to other continents. The plague ended through the implementation of quarantine. The unaffected people would remain in their homes and go out in emergency cases. It was the second plague pandemic recorded after the Plague of Justinian.

The Black Death devastated social, economic, and religious factors and affected European history. Symptoms of the disease include nausea and vomiting, headache, and pain in joints. Most victims died within a week after infection. Transmission occurs through fleas that consume infected animals and particularly wild rodents.

10. H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic

It was caused by H1N1 that originated in Mexico and then spread to the entire world. It infected over a million people in the world and killed over 575,000 people. It majorly affected children and adults. It lasted for nearly 19 months.

The symptoms observed in people who were infected through this virus include fever, cold and cough, fatigue, runny nose, and joint pain. Pregnant women and people having diabetes and weakened immune systems were at more risk. The spread of the virus was thought to occur the same way that seasonal flu spreads.

It got transmitted from person to person through sneezing or contacting people with influenza. Not only it affected people, but animals like cats, dogs, and turkeys were infected through this virus. Initially, the vaccines created were not majorly available to people, so, the CDC recommended to provide medicines to pregnant women and babies who were under six months old.


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  2. Burlin

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