As the world battles with one of the worst pandemics that have affected the world through the ages, the thought often comes to mind about the very nature of such pandemics to occur in the first place. Many schools of thought simply perceive them as a sort of “reset buttons”, restoring order in a world full of increasing chaos. As such, there have been many pandemics, i.e., epidemics on a truly large scale that have occurred around the world at various stages of human history, and have altered the chain of events in history for good or for worse. Some of them have been forces of nature, while others, like the COVID-19 of today, have been purely a byproduct of human interference with nature. Here is a list of the top 8 pandemics the world has gone through.
- Plague of Athens, 430 BC
While the war between Athens and Sparta raged on, a peculiar fever was ravaging the people of Athens and it went on for 5 years. Documented stories about the pandemic described it as “attacks of violent heat” in the head, red and inflamed eyes and the respiratory system was affected as well. Later studies described the plague vaguely to be like typhoid or ebola, but the exact cause and disease is still unknown.
- Cyprian Plague, 250 AD
Described by St Cyprian, a Carthage Bishop in Tunisia, “The Bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength…”. The plague was estimated to have taken the lives of 5000 people in the city of Rome itself, on which the bishop was convinced that that was the “end of the world”.
- Justinian Plague, 541 AD
Very little is known about the origin of this plague, but it definitely struck the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, during the peak of the empire, when it controlled more than half of the civilized world. Justinian was able to survive the disease. His empire wasn’t that lucky. An estimated 10% of the world population was wiped out
- The Black Death, 1346 AD
Yersinia Pesta is a term you may not hear today, as it is a strain of an extinct form of bacteria and was carried by fleas on infected rodents. The disease brought havoc in Asia and Europe, so much so that cheap labor became increasingly scarce in Europe, leading to the demise of Serfdom. The mass destruction as a result, did improve the quality of life for a working class man.
- The American Plagues, 16th century
One of the major contributing factors to the decline of the indigenous population of the Americas, the Aztecs and the Inca, the American plagues had their origins in Europe and Asia and were brought to the Americas by the European explorers. The natives’ demise eventually paved the way for the European colonies to take control of the American lands.
- Flu Pandemic, 1889
The 19th century was the age of rapid industrialization and transport, and as a result the world suddenly became a much smaller place. This also meant that diseases and viruses could spread on a true global scale. The Flu Pandemic, which is thought to have started in Russia, quickly spread to the rest of the world, killing an estimated 1 million people. It achieved this horrifying figure in a matter of weeks.
- The Spanish Flu, 1918
The first World War left an indelible mark on the world order and history for ages to come, and part of that mark came because of the inhuman nature with which people lost their lives. The Spanish Flu, although having no Spanish connection at all, was part of that exodus. It infected 500 million people worldwide and a fifth of that population died. The worst effect of the flu came on the indigenous populations, some of which were almost wiped out from the planet.
- Swine Flu Pandemic 2009
Spread by the H1N1 virus, having its origins in Mexico, the Swine Flu Pandemic is a classic example of what a widespread virus can do in the modern age, affecting 1.4 billion people worldwide and claiming lives of almost half a million. A vaccine exists today, but the price humanity paid for it was dear.
- Ebola Pandemic, 2014
Before COVID-19, the last great pandemic to affect the world, albeit not at a truly global level, was the Ebola Pandemic, affecting mostly African countries with traces of victims found in Europe and the USA. Despite no official vaccine in existence for the virus, it still draws headlines for the simple fact that like the coronavirus, Ebola had its origins in bats.
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