Ancient and Medieval Times

Hippocratic texts indicate the presence of tuberculosis, malaria, and influenza in the population of ancient Greece, and the historian Thucydides provides the first full description of a major plague, the precise nature of which remains uncertain, in Athens (430-429 b.c.e.), in his history of the

Peloponnesian War. The increase in trade brought about by the growth of the Roman Empire facilitated the transmission of disease, and there were massive epidemics in the Mediterranean (165-180 c.e. and 211-266 c.e.). The "plague of Justinian" (542-547 c.e.), which was said to have killed ten thousand people per day in Constantinople, is the first recorded appearance of bubonic plague (McNeill). In Europe and Asia, diseases such as measles and smallpox gradually became endemic, affecting virtually all parts of the population on a regular basis, with occasional epidemic outbursts. Periodic epidemics of bubonic plague continued, most seriously in the fourteenth century, when perhaps as much as one-third of Europe's population perished.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, from 1492 on, they brought many of these diseases to native American populations for the first time, with devastating effects. The importation of African slaves introduced malaria and yellow fever by the seventeenth century (Kiple, 1984). The merging of the disease pools of the Old and New Worlds was completed by what appeared to be the transmission of syphilis to Europe from the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century, though the subject remains disputed by historians, some arguing that it was a recurrence or mutation of a disease that already existed on the Continent (Crosby).

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