Disease, Epidemics, and Historical Periods
Historical Periods and Events
ca. 429 B.C. The Plague of Athens, during the Peloponnesian War, started in Ethiopia and traveled to Athens by ship. In Athens, it caused tremendous mortality because the citizens were crowded inside the walls of the city. Pericles sent a fleet to capture Potidaea, a Spartan stronghold. Plague broke out on the ship and the navy was forced to return. Although historians are uncertain what type of plague struck Athens (it may have been scarlet fever, bubonic plague, typhus, or smallpox), the epidemic certainly was a key factor in the downfall of the Athenian state (Cartwright 1972).
1190. Plague and famine reduced a Christian army from 100,000 to 5,000 soldiers (Zinsser 1934).
1566. Maximillian II of Germany led 80,000 soldiers to attack the Sultan Soliman in Hungary. Before any battlefield action occurred, a devastating typhus epidemic broke out in camp and the campaign had to be called off.
1741. The Austrian army surrendered Prague to the French army because 30,000 soldiers died of typhus and the Austrians could not defend the city (Zinsser 1934).
Crimean War (1853-1856)
1853-56. During the war, more than 50,000 soldiers died of disease while only about 2,000 were killed in action or mortally wounded.
American Civil War (1861-1865)
Turko-Russian War (1878)
1878. More than 80,000 soldiers on both sides died of disease while only about 20,000 were killed in action or mortally wounded.
Spanish-American War (1898)
1898. During this short war, almost 2,000 American soldiers died of disease while only 469 were killed in action or mortally wounded.
Boer War (1899-1902)
1899-1902. More than 14,000 British soldiers died of disease. Another 8,000 soldiers were killed in action or mortally wounded. There were at least 57,684 cases of typhoid fever among the British.
World War I (1914-1918)
1917-1923. In the devastation of eastern Europe following World War I, as armies were returning home, a typhus epidemic raged. There were at least 30 million cases and 3 million deaths in European Russia alone (Zinsser 1934).
World War II (1939-1945)
1945-46. Two million Greeks contracted malaria after German occupation, despite relatively malaria-free conditions before the war.