Pandemics – The Very Long History

The Plague of Justinian


Pandemics have long been a part of human history. This includes various diseases that spread globally and have, in many different periods, created a large-scale population reduction. For ancient periods, pandemics were often conflated with plagues. While the recent COVID-19 pandemic is of concern, many other pandemics have caused far worse social disruption and destruction.

Some of the earliest recorded epidemics may appear by the mid-2nd millennium BCE. Some of these may have been global-scale pandemics but often this information is difficult to piece together since most societies were still without writing. In Mesopotamia, recordings of plague are made in the Old Babylonian period (1800-1600 BCE), which could have been a pandemic that had started in Asia or spread in Asia. By around 1400 BCE, the Hittites mention a plague was spread through their country and that they had asked the gods to spread the disease to their enemies rather than on them. In fact, by 1200 BCE, a great collapse of states occurred, including the fall of the Hittites, and along the eastern Mediterranean, with the Mycenaean Greeks collapsing as well. Texts indicate that great waves of invasions occurred that caused this collapse.

However, it is likely something else triggered this; while nobody knows for sure what triggered these mass migrations and invasions, one possibility is a chain reaction of events across Eurasia led to migrations that pushed groups to take risky invasions of areas such as southeast Europe and Mediterranean region. Pestilence, plagues, and global pandemics have been leading reasons as to what caused these migrations and invasions to occur. The events were so pronounced that for 200 years, few written records were produced and this has been called one of the earliest great ‘Dark Ages’ due to the scale of the impact these events had on established complex societies around the Mediterranean region.[1]

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Categories: World History

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