Devastating Pandemics: The Plague of Athens
Starting in 430 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, the unidentified plague that struck Athens would eventually go on to kill nearly a quarter of the city-state’s population in a very short amount of time before cropping back up again twice in later years and then vanishing altogether.
The disease, believed by some to be a form of Typhoid fever, killed a victim so fast that it was unable to truly spread beyond the borders of the city-state, preventing an epidemic from reaching the other major population centers in Greece.
Believed to have been brought back to Rome by the Roman army, the Antonine Plague was the cause of one of the deadliest pandemics in history with a final death toll exceeding 5 million people. The disease, which appeared on two separate occasions, killed a quarter of those infected and nearly destroyed the Roman army. According to one historian, at the height of the diseases’ infection, nearly 2,000 people were dying a day in Rome.
Devastating Pandemics: Plague of Justinian
This plague, named after the Byzantine Emperor who was in power when it first appeared, can be considered one of the deadliest in all human history. When the plague first struck Constantinople in 541 AD, nearly 40% of the population was killed by the disease and thousands more died as it spread throughout the countryside and abroad.
For the next two centuries, the disease returned several times, eventually claiming the lives of nearly a quarter of the human population in the known world. While many believe it was an early strain of the bubonic plague, some believe it to be a different strain of disease altogether.