The pandemic right now may look bad. There are a lot of people already infected with the virus. Some of them are gone, while others are lucky enough to recover. COVID-19 didn’t just affect people; it also affected countries, with some going on economy-draining lockdowns. Others are lucky enough to have restarted near the end of last year; others are still trying to find a way to get back.
But this isn’t the first pandemic that humanity has faced, and it won’t certainly be the last. Throughout history, mankind has survived worse epidemics and plagues. Like this current pandemic, though, the world wasn’t quite the same when these died down.
Here are some of the worst pandemics in history, including ones that signaled the end of ancient civilizations. Let’s start off with the furthest.
China 3,000 BC
It is rather unfortunate how China seems to have a magnet for pandemics. This one happened in the same country about 5,000 years ago, where a prehistoric village was wiped out. All age groups, from middle-aged adults to children, were found stuffed in a home that was burned down; the place is now part of an archaeological dig designated “Hamin Mangha”.
It is also one of the best-preserved sites of antiquity in northeastern China. Data gathered from the site revealed that there was no time to bury the dead, as the pandemic seemed to happen quickly. There is another mass grave that was discovered before this one, Miaozigou, in the same area. It suggests that the people might’ve tried to establish another village, only for the ancient pandemic to follow them there.
Athens 430 BC
The Greek states were always at war during the old times, but this epidemic happened after a war between Athens and Sparta. Ancient Greek historian Thucydides recorded that the plague, which put down no lower than 100,000 people, had “people in good health” suffering from inflammation in the eyes as well as redness and “violent heats in the head”.
Scientists are baffled as to what the disease may be; some suggested typhoid fever, while others said it was Ebola. As always, conditions emanating from overcrowding caused by the way quickened the pace of the pandemic. Despite this, Athens and Sparta continued their war, until, in 404 BC, Athens surrendered to Sparta.
Rome 165 AD
We’re not going to reach the age of digital calculators and pay per click advertising just yet; this time, we turn to Rome. The Antonine plague was an early onset of smallpox that the Huns spread to the Germans. As Rome was conducting a campaign in Germania, the Germans spread it to the Romans and vice versa.
Symptoms of this smallpox variant included: sore throat, fever, diarrhea, and pus-filled sores if the patient is still alive. The plague died down in 180 AD, but not before claiming the life of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The infamous Bubonic plague was responsible for killing off one-third of the world population at the time. This plague moved through the trade routes, as this was the golden age of mercantile deals between the East and the West. It entered the port of Messina in Sicily in 1347 AD, as a ship carrying plague sufferers docked.
It changed life as medieval folk knew it. England and France, locked in a bitter war, were forced to call it off as the plague ravaged their nations. Britain’s feudal economy was in shambles as demographics were changed. Even the Vikings lost the will to pillage due to the plague, putting their conquest of North America to a stop.
The Spanish flu is one pandemic that many say shares the same similarities as this one. Death tolls collected from around the world totaled up to 50 million deaths. This plague was first seen in Europe, Asia, and the United States until it swiftly infected the world. It was so named because of wire service reports coming from Madrid in 1918, the recorded start of the virus outbreak.
October 1918 saw hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer the virus. It was deadly since there were no vaccines or treatments at the time that proved effective. It suddenly disappeared in the summer of 1919 as the infected either developed herd immunity or the last had died.
The latest virus, COVID-19, won’t be the last deadly plague to hound mankind. We are technically luckier since modern medicine already has a fighting chance with the swift discovery of a vaccine. Only together will we be able to survive this new round of pandemic.