Plague in the Ancient World

A Study from Thucydides to Justinian by Christine A. Smith. Throughout history, humans have been faced with disastrous catastrophes which must be endured in order to survive. One of the most incomprehensible disasters for humanity has been the plague. This term in Greek can refer to any kind of sickness; in Latin, the terms are plaga and pestis. In antiquity, two of the most devastating plagues were the Athenian plague of 430 B.C. and the Justinianic plague of 542 A.D. This paper will discuss these plagues, the manner in which they spread, and their consequences for the survivors. Also, the ways in which ancient writers wrote about these disasters will be discussed, with special reference to the role of the gods. Much of what is conventionally believed about these plagues comes from comparisons with the Black Death, a visitation of bubonic plague during the fourteenth century A.D. Although the sources for the Athenian and Justinianic plagues are insufficient, there is some question as to the validity of this analogy as an historical source.

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