Our current pandemic is of Biblical proportions from the point of view that it has aggressively spread across a modern world with dramatic speed. We tend to lull ourselves to sleep and think that we are indestructible due to a modern living condition that far surpasses anything the world has ever witnessed. As modern as we are and as privileged as we believe we are, a small microscopic bug, a virus, has greatly thwarted the most robust economy in the history of the world. The term pandemic is not a general term but is defined as a disease that has crossed international boundaries.
As much as we believe this pandemic is limited to the current small period of history as defined by the length of time that man has populated the earth, we are not the sole owner of major contagions. Other pandemics have plagued the world with significant negative consequences.
The first recorded pandemic occurred in 430 BC. While this is the first recorded it is probable that other pandemics had occurred. It was the transformation of a hunter-gather society to a more sedentary society that witnessed the rise of villages to cities that provided the nucleus for pandemics to thrive. In 430 the Greek citystate of Athens was at war with Sparta. The city was at siege and a plague that had traveled from Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt had arrived in Athens. Two thirds of the city died and weakened it so much that the Spartans were victorious and thus life in Athens as we knew it came to an end.
In 165 AD Rome was near its’ pinnacle of power. The Huns were invading Eastern Europe and brought with them what is thought to have been smallpox. This was referred to as the Antoine plague. Germans were infected from the Huns. Roman soldiers that were fighting the Germans were then infected. The Romans then returned to Rome and the illness spread. Emperor Marcus Aurelias was one fatality; a noble emperor had died. The plague remained for 15 years weakening the Roman empire. It would take 1800 years to find a vaccine and eradicate the disease. In 1981 small pox was declared by the World Health Organization to be eradicated.
The Cyprian plague appeared in 250 AD. It began in Ethiopia, moved through North Africa and eventually to Rome. This would recur for several hundred years and hit England hard in 440 AD. The plague caused the British to seek help from the Saxons to stop an onslaught from the Scotts. Eventually the Saxons took control of the country so this pandemic changed the political world of England.
In 541 Emperor Justinian was attempting to put the Roman Empire back together. He was succeeding when a new pandemic hit. Termed the Justinian plague, it put a massive economic burden on the Roman empire and greatly slowed the ability to pull Rome together. The dire atmosphere helped to grow and expand Christianity. This pandemic resurfaced for over 200 years and killed and estimated 50 million people, which was 26 percent of the world population. This was the first appearance of the bubonic plague and was transmitted by fleas carried on rats.
The Black Death, a second wave of the Bubonic Plague, surfaced in Sicily from a single ship. The plague flowed over Europe quickly. England and /France called a truce to their war as they were both weakened by the virus. The English feudal system collapsed and the Viking expansion into North America ended after the Greenland settlements were ravaged.
Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492 and brought with it what is known as the Columbian Exchange. When Columbus arrived at the Dominican Republic he brought a series of diseases that had not been encountered by the natives. The Taino natives totaled 60,000 men, women and children. Fifty -six years later the inhabitants numbered 500. In 1520 the great Aztec nation of Mexico fell due to small pox weakening its’ population. It is also believed that as many as 56 million native North American Indians died from European diseases.
Pandemics continue still today. The Great London Plague took place in 1665 and killed 20 percent of the population. In 1855 the third bubonic plague epidemic appeared in China, traveled through India and killed 15 million people and lasted until 1960. I remember being in the Seabees and having to get immunized for the Plague in 1975. The Spanish Flu appeared in 1918 and killed an estimated 50 million around the world. In 1957 we saw 14,000 die worldwide of the Asian Flu. Then a second wave hit the world and 1.1 million died nationwide while 116,000 died in America. A vaccine ended the pandemic. 2003 saw SARS start in China but with quick reaction the pandemic was limited to only 774 deaths. H1N1 occurred in 2009 and estimates as high as 575,000 people may have died nationwide.
As bad as things may be today, as high as the death rate, as anxious as we are to get back to normal, past pandemics have been so much worse. As much as some like to paint a picture of despair and incompetency, the fact is that America has weathered a potential catastrophic collapse and the American spirit and strong leadership has kept us from becoming a dire statistic such as we have witnessed in the past.
Glad bless the United States and God protect our planet.
Tuffy Fields may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.