How much do you know about the ten worst plagues in human history?

By: B. Stefflon Mar. 23,2020

While human beings have improved their own destiny, they have also increased their vulnerability to disease. We should be aware of the limitations of human power. We should keep in mind that the more we win, the more we drive infectious diseases to the edge of human experience, the more we clear the way for catastrophic infectious diseases. We can never escape the limitations of the ecosystem. Whether we are happy or not, we are in the food chain, eating and being eaten. -William Hardy McNeill

Black Death Spread Map

The ten worst plagues in human history

1. Plague in Athens (430–427 BC)

From 430 BC to 427 BC, there was a great plague in Athens, nearly half of the population died, and the entire Athens was almost destroyed. Some experts believe that the plague is plague. The Athens Plague was a devastating infectious disease that struck the entire ancient Greek and Roman city.

The Greek historian Thucydides described the plague that destroyed Athens. "People who are in good health are suddenly attacked by a severe high fever, their eyes are red as if spitting out flames, their throats or tongues begin to congest and emit an unnatural stench, and terrible thirst comes with vomiting and diarrhea. When the patient's body became sore and inflamed and turned into ulcers, he could not fall asleep or tolerate the touch of the bed. Some patients wandered naked in the street, looking for water to drink until they fell to the ground and died.

Even the dog died of the disease, and the crows and big eagles that ate the corpses of people who were lying everywhere died. The survivors either lost their fingers, toes, eyes, or lost their memory. "

2. The Anthony Plague in ancient Rome (164-180 AD)

The Anthony Plague in ancient Rome was caused by infection. According to history books, the symptoms of this infectious disease are: severe diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, ulceration, hot fever, hands and feet festering or gangrene, unbearable thirst, and skin purulence.

Fighting soldiers in the Near East returned to the Roman Empire, bringing smallpox and measles, which spread to the people of Anthony. Infectious diseases claimed the lives of two Roman emperors. The first was Lucius Verus, who died of illness in 169, and the second was his heir, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who became an emperor until 180 AD, but also escaped misfortune due to infection.

The plague broke out again nine years later. According to Roman historian Diorca, 2,000 people died of illness in Rome a day at that time, equivalent to a quarter of the number of people infected. The total death toll is estimated to be five million. In some places, the plague killed one-third of the total population, greatly weakening Roman forces.

The plague also had a great impact on the society and politics of the Roman Empire, especially on the fine arts field of literature. In the picture below, the remains in the pit are the bones of the dead of the infectious disease, which is shocking.

It was in the second year of the Peloponnesian War, just as victory in Athens was at hand. The plague was said to have spread to Athens from Piraeus, a port city in Athens and a major source of food and daily necessities. Sparta and parts of the eastern Mediterranean have also been hit by the disease.

The plague revived twice in the winter of 429 and 427 BC. Modern historians disagree that plague was the cause of Athens' failure in the Peloponnesian war. However, it is widely believed that the defeat of the war paved the way for Macedonia's victory, and eventually the Roman Empire was established. According to historical records, the plague broke out in various forms, including typhoid fever, smallpox, measles, and toxic shock syndrome.

3.The Justinian Plague (541-542)

The Justinian plague refers to the first large-scale plague that broke out in the Mediterranean world from 541 to 542 AD. It caused extremely serious damage and caused a great deal of damage to the Byzantine Empire. Its extremely high death rate caused the Byzantine Empire to fall. Obviously, the labor force and troop strength have fallen sharply, the normal life order has been severely damaged, and it has also had far-reaching negative social consequences, and it has also had a profound impact on the historical development of the Byzantine Empire, the Mediterranean, and Europe.

After the 4th century AD, the once-popular Roman Empire gradually split into two parts, east and west. The emperors of the Byzantine Empire, who were far away from the east, always regarded themselves as the orthodox heirs of the Roman Empire, so they have been trying to regain their lost ground, reunify the Roman Empire, and reproduce the glory of the past. By the 6th century, the Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire decided to take action to realize this dream. As a result, Justinian launched a war of conquest in the Western Mediterranean world in 533 AD. However, just as he swept through North Africa, conquered Italy, and was about to reappear the glory of the Roman Empire, a plague of unprecedented scale came unexpectedly, making the East Roman Empire's dream of resurgence void. In 541 AD, the plague began in Egypt in the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire, and then quickly spread to the capital Constantinople and other areas.

There were many weird scenes at the time: when people were talking to each other, they could not start shaking voluntarily, and then fell to the ground; when people were shopping, they stood there talking or counting change, and they died unexpectedly. to. The earliest people infected with the plague were poor people sleeping on the streets. When the plague was the worst, 5,000 to 7,000 people died a day.

Officials had to report to Justinian in extreme fear. The death toll quickly exceeded 230,000, no sufficient burial site could be found, the bodies had to be piled on the street, and the entire city was smelling corpses. Justinian himself was almost infected with the plague. In fear, he ordered the construction of many huge tombs capable of burying tens of thousands of corpses, and recruited workers with heavy gold to dig pits to bury the dead to stop the further spread of the plague. As a result, a large number of corpses, regardless of gender, nobleness, age, or young age, were buried under nearly a hundred layers. The plague killed 40% of the residents of Constantinople's cities. It continued to rag for half a century until a quarter of the Roman population died of plague. The famine and civil unrest caused by the plague completely shattered Justinian's ambitions, and severely damaged the vitality of the Eastern Roman Empire.

4. Black Death (1347 – 1351)

The Black Death is one of the deadliest plagues in human history. It is widely believed to be caused by a bacteria called plague. But recently it was thought to be caused by some other diseases. The origin of the plague has caused widespread controversy among experts. Some historians believe that the Black Death began in China or Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. It was carried by merchants and soldiers to Crimea in southern Russia in the following years. In the 1440s, the epidemic spread from Crimea to Western Europe and North Africa. The black death caused 75 million deaths worldwide, of which 25 to 50 million were in Europe.

One symptom of black death is that many dark spots appear on the patient's skin, so this special plague is called Black Death. For those infected with the disease, painful death is almost inevitable and there is no possibility of cure.

The plague-causing bacteria were carried by fleas hidden in the fur of black rats. In the 14th century, the number of black rats was large. Once the disease occurs, it spreads rapidly. A total of 25 million Europeans died of the Black Death between 1348 and 1350. However, the popularity didn't end there. Over the next 40 years, it happened again and again.

Before the plague bacterium broke out again in the 1920s, it had been dormant in the Gobi Desert in Asia for hundreds of years, and then quickly spread around with blood from fleas on rats, from China along Central Trade Routes to Central Asia And Turkey, then taken to Italy by ship and into Europe. The dense population of Europe has become a gunpowder for this disease. In three years, the Black Death has spread to the entire European continent and spread to Russia, killing nearly one-third to half of Russia's population.

5. American Plague (16th Century)

Before the arrival of the Europeans, 4 to 5 million indigenous people lived in the Americas, most of whom died in the 16th century and decades, and some historians have even called it the largest genocide in human history. However, the most direct killer of the Indians was not the European guns, but the plague they brought.

When Columbus arrived in the New World, the Europeans had already experienced many catastrophes of deadly infectious diseases and found a way to treat some infectious diseases. However, the Americas had long been isolated from Eurasia, and Indians were almost completely isolated from these diseases. European disease spread to the New World following Columbus' first America trip. Mumps, measles, smallpox, cholera, gonorrhea and yellow fever, etc. These diseases, which have long been adapted by Europeans, are extremely lethal to Indians, because their immune systems are almost immune, especially measles and smallpox . Therefore, the indigenous peoples of Central America, such as the Aztecs, were defeated by foreign plagues even though they had walls that Europeans could not break.

The plague destroyed Aztec. In 1521, when the Mexican colonial army began to siege the Aztec fortress of Native Mexicans, they met with stubborn resistance and the offensive was repelled again and again. The hard-hitting Spaniard thought that the Aztecs would take the opportunity to launch a deadly counterattack, but the army in the castle was slow to take any action. This gave the Spaniards a breather. On August 21, they launched a new offensive without encountering any resistance. And the situation in the castle made them unbelievable: dead bodies were everywhere, and the smell of carrion was everywhere, and a more lethal force than the Spanish army had swept the city, that was the plague.

Some people once thought that it was backward weapons and technology that caused the American Indians to lose to the Western colonists. Because in the traditional concept, European advanced weapons have always been the key to their victory, but Western muskets were not advanced at the time. The Indians soon discovered that although the gun was powerful, it was not easy to aim, and their fear of new weapons disappeared. And the Indian bow and arrow's long-range power is not inferior. In the 15th century, the Latin American and Inca culture had reached its peak. They built fields, a clear division of labor, and a prosperous economy. Their astronomy and geography knowledge was enough to amaze modern people. However, such a plague has made such a not backward race endangered in just a few decades.

In fact, the spread of infectious diseases in Europe completely exceeded the speed of the colonists' advancement to the American continent. Indians who learned of the arrival of Europeans from the inhabitants of the coast were also infected with new diseases at the same time. Therefore, when the colonists arrived in Chile in the 1620s, the Inca civilization here was hit by smallpox, and the entire royal family was almost killed by the plague. The new battle for the throne divided the country into two, which gave the Spaniards a chance.

Resistance to disease also contributed to the prevalence of the plague. Most infectious disease bacteria are mutated from animals, first transmitted to humans, and then transmitted to humans. Due to the long history of European agriculture and the large number of domestic animals, the frequent contact with germs has formed adaptability over thousands of years; the Indians are not. The underdevelopment of agriculture has caused them to have a lack of experience in contact with livestock, and their bodies rarely encounter such germs. There is no immunity at all, so he cannot defeat the army in front of smallpox. Africans also have similar immune systems and resistance due to earlier contact with Europeans. And the spread of disease can be two-way. At that time, the only disease that was introduced into Europe from the Americas was syphilis, which claimed a large number of European lives.

6. The Great Plague of Milan (1629–1631)

From 1629 to 1631, there was a series of plagues in Italy, often called the Milan Plague. Including Rumba and Venice, the plague killed approximately 280,000 people. The Milan Plague is the last of all epidemics since the Black Death began.

In 1629, German and French soldiers brought infectious diseases to Mantua, Italy. During the Thirty Years' War, the Venetian army became ill, and when they retreated to north-central Italy, they transmitted the disease to the locals. The total population of Milan at that time was 130,000, and the number of people who died of the disease in the plague reached 60,000.

7. The Great Plague of London (1665-1666)

The Great Plague of London refers to the large-scale plague that occurred in England from 1665 to 1666. Seventy-five to 100,000 people were killed in the plague, more than a fifth of London's total population at the time. It has historically been identified as a large-scale black death caused by bubonic plague, and people have been infected with Yersinia pestis via fleas. The infectious disease of 1665 was the last large-scale outbreak of lymphoblastic plague in England.

There are two sources of the plague. One is from France. In April 1665, two French seafarers fainted at the intersection of Trulli Street and Long Ecker in the West End of London. Later, the virus they carried caused a wide range of infections. Another argument is that the plague virus came from the Netherlands, and the disease has been transmitted locally in the Netherlands since 1599. The first area affected by the plague was St Giles Parish in London. In the winter from the end of 1664 to the beginning of 1665, there were already cases there, but it was not until the spring of 1665 that the disease spread rapidly on a large scale due to the large increase in population and the sharp deterioration of health conditions. By July 1665, the plague had spread all over London. King Charles II and his family were forced to leave London for Oxfordshire, but the mayor and counsellor remained on their posts. And some clerics, doctors, and pharmacists have been busy all summer. The streets are full of doctors responsible for the plague, although many of them are not licensed.

Due to the rapid spread of this plague, people had to seal the houses where the sick people lived, and painted a red cross on the closed gates with the words "Blessed by God". Anything is strictly prohibited. People come and go. Food and water are brought in from a window by a person at a limited time every day. Thousands of patients died miserably in such awful conditions, and no more than 10,000 people died in a week at most. By early September, the bustling city of London had completely turned into a silent dead city. All the shops were closed, pedestrians could hardly be seen on the street, and the roadside was covered with lush weeds. The only job in the city that can break the silence from time to time is to transport corpses. Every night, the sound of the wheel of the corpse transporter "Gulong, Gullong!" And the sad ringtone of the car sounded creepy. Initially, this burial was carried out only late at night. Later, the deceased was too large and had to be carried out day and night. The body of the deceased was loaded into a corpse truck horizontally and vertically, and carried to burial pits everywhere. There, the workers responsible for burying the body often covered their mouths, rang the bell, and said in their mouths: "Rest in peace!" Hurry to pour the body into the pit, cover it with thin soil, and hurriedly leave.

Records show that the death toll in London continues to rise from 1,000-2000 people per week, and by September 1665, an average of 7,000 people had died each week. By late autumn, the situation had been controlled to some extent. By February 1666, the city was considered safe enough to welcome the king. At the same time, plague spread to France due to business exchanges with continental Europe. The plague remained mild until September 1666. On September 2 and 3, a fire broke out in the City of London, which burned most of the infected houses. This was the beginning of a better situation. Another possible cause is that most of the infected people have died. The city of London was rebuilt on the basis of the fire, and a new life was obtained after the plague.

8. The Great Plague of Marseille (1720 – 1722)

In 1720, Marseille was hit by a plague. This was the worst disaster in the city's history and one of the worst plagues in Europe in the early 18th century.

In 1720, a plague broke out in Marseille, France, affecting the entire city and surrounding cities, causing 100,000 deaths. The plague came fast and fast, and Marseille quickly recovered from the plague. The economy recovered in just a few years and developed rapidly, with trade expanding to the West Indies and Latin America. By 1765, population growth had returned to levels before 1720. The plague is not as devastating as the Black Death that occurred in the 14th century.

The end of the plague is related to the tough measures taken by the French government. The government stipulates that any communication or communication between Marseille citizens and people in Provence and elsewhere will be punishable by death. To strengthen isolation, a plague wall has also been established.

9. The Black Death in Moscow (1771)

The first signs of plague in Moscow were at the end of 1770 and by the spring of 1771 it had become a pandemic.

At that time, the government took a series of measures, such as establishing a quarantine area, destroying contaminated property, and closing public baths. The Great Plague caused extreme panic and anger among citizens. The entire city's economy is paralyzed, mainly because many factories, markets, shops, and administrative buildings have been closed. What follows is a severe food shortage, which has led to an increasingly low standard of living for most Moscows. In order to escape the plague, noble classes and rich people left Moscow.


On the morning of September 17, 1771, about 1,000 people gathered again at the gate of Spasskiye, demanding the release of captured anti-government militants and the elimination of isolation. The army tried to disperse the crowd, but it was unable to disperse it. Eventually, it could only suppress the riots again. About 300 people were imprisoned. On September 26, a government official under Grigory Orlov was sent to Moscow to restore social order.

To mitigate the effects of the plague, the government adopted measures such as providing job opportunities for the citizens and distributing food to them, which eventually calmed the dissatisfaction of the Moscow population.

10. The Third Plague (1885-1950s)

The third plague was a severe rat plague that began in Yunnan Province of China in 1855. This worldwide pandemic is known for its rapid spread and wider spread than the previous two. The plague spread to all inhabited continents. After it was introduced from Yunnan to Guizhou, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Fuzhou, and Xiamen, the number of deaths in these places reached more than 100,000. The plague in southern China also quickly spread to India, spreading to San Francisco in the United States in 1900, and also to Europe and Africa. In 10 years, it spread to more than 60 countries in 77 ports. More than 12 million people have died from the plague in India and China alone. According to the World Health Organization, the march lasted until 1959, when the number of people killed by the plague in the world was reduced to about 200. The epidemic is characterized by the fact that the epidemic area is mostly distributed in coastal cities and nearby densely populated residential areas, and it is also endemic in domestic animals.

Almost all Chinese and foreign scholars agree that the Third World Plague Pandemic originated in Yunnan, and that Yunnan was an ancient house plague source, but they all asserted that there is no natural plague source in Yunnan, and that Yunnan ’s Plague is imported. That is, incoming directly or indirectly from India and Myanmar. However, in 1974, Yunnan plague workers isolated plague bacteria from Chinese guinea pigs in Jianchuan County, Yunnan, confirming the existence of a natural plague source in western Yunnan. Source, which provided further scientific evidence for the third plague.


Article source: Xinhua International

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