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BA Deere
Honored Advisor

History Rhymes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Athens   

The Plague of Athens (Ancient Greek: Λοιμὸς τῶν Ἀθηνῶν, Loimos tôn Athênôn) was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC) when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. The plague killed an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people and is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus, the city's port and sole source of food and supplies.[1] Much of the eastern Mediterranean also saw an outbreak of the disease, albeit with less impact.[2]

The plague had serious effects on Athens' society, resulting in a lack of adherence to laws and religious belief; in response laws became stricter, resulting in the punishment of non-citizens claiming to be Athenian. In addition, Pericles, the leader of Athens, died from the plague.[3] The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/426 BC. Some 30 pathogens have been suggested as having caused the plague.[4]

 

Background[edit]

Sparta and its allies, with the exception of Corinth, were almost exclusively land based powers, able to summon large land armies that were very nearly unbeatable. In the face of a combined campaign on land from Sparta and its allies beginning in 431 BC, the Athenians, under the direction of Pericles, pursued a policy of retreat within the city walls of Athens, relying on Athenian maritime supremacy for supply while the superior Athenian navy harassed Spartan troop movements. Unfortunately, the strategy also resulted in massive migration from the Attic countryside into an already highly-populated city, generating overpopulation and resource shortage. Due to the close quarters and poor hygiene exhibited at that time, Athens became a breeding ground for disease and many citizens died. In the history of epidemics, the 'Plague' of Athens is remarkable for the one-sidedness of the affliction as well as for its influence on the ultimate outcome of the war.

In his History of the Peloponnesian War, the historian Thucydides, who was present and contracted the disease himself and survived,[5] describes the epidemic. He writes of a disease coming from Ethiopia and passing through Egypt and Libya into the Greek world and spreading throughout the wider Mediterranean; a plague so severe and deadly that no one could recall anywhere its like, and physicians ignorant of its nature not only were helpless but themselves died the fastest, having had the most contact with the sick. In overcrowded Athens, the disease killed an estimated 25% of the population. The sight of the burning funeral pyres of Athens caused the Spartans to withdraw their troops, being unwilling to risk contact with the diseased enemy. Many of Athens' infantry and expert seamen died. According to Thucydides, not until 415 BC had Athens recovered sufficiently to mount a major offensive, the disastrous Sicilian Expedition.

The first corroboration of the plague was not revealed until 1994-95 where excavation revealed the first mass grave.[6] Upon this discovery, Thucydides' accounts of the event as well as analysis of the remains had been used to try and identify the cause of the epidemic.

Social implications[edit]

Accounts of the Athenian plague graphically describe the social consequences of an epidemic. Thucydides' account clearly details the complete disappearance of social morals during the time of the plague:

...the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or law.”

— Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War[7]

This perceived impact of the Athenian plague on collective social and religious behavior echoes accounts of the medieval pandemic best known as the Black Death,[8] although scholars have disputed its objective veracity in both instances, citing a historical link between epidemic disease and unsubstantiated moral panic.[9][10]

Fear of the law[edit]

Thucydides states that people ceased fearing the law since they felt they were already living under a death sentence. Likewise, people started spending money indiscriminately. Many felt they would not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of wise investment, while some of the poor unexpectedly became wealthy by inheriting the property of their relatives. It is also recorded that people refused to behave honorably because most did not expect to live long enough to enjoy a good reputation for it.[11]

Care for the sick and dead[edit]

 
Α reconstructed appearance of Myrtis, an 11-year-old girl who died during the plague of Athens and whose skeleton was found in the Kerameikos mass grave, National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Another reason for the lack of honorable behavior was the sheer contagiousness of the illness. Those who tended to the ill were most vulnerable to catching the disease. This meant that many people died alone because no one was willing to risk caring for them. The dead were heaped on top of each other, left to rot, or shoved into mass graves. Sometimes those carrying the dead would come across an already burning funeral pyre, dump a new body on it, and walk away. Others appropriated prepared pyres so as to have enough fuel to cremate their own dead. Those lucky enough to survive the plague developed an immunity and so became the main caretakers of those who later fell ill.[12]

A mass grave and nearly 1,000 tombs, dated between 430 and 426 BC, have been found just outside Athens' ancient Kerameikos cemetery. The mass grave was bordered by a low wall that seems to have protected the cemetery from a wetland. Excavated during 1994–95, the shaft-shaped grave may have contained a total of 240 individuals, at least ten of them children. Skeletons in the graves were randomly placed with no layers of soil between them.

Excavator Efi Baziotopoulou-Valavani, of the Third Ephoreia (Directorate) of Antiquities, reported that "[t]he mass grave did not have a monumental character. The offerings we found consisted of common, even cheap, burial vessels; black-finished ones, some small red-figured, as well as white lekythoi (oil flasks) of the second half of the 5th century BC. The bodies were placed in the pit within a day or two. These [factors] point to a mass burial in a state of panic, quite possibly due to a plague."[13]

During this time refugees from the Peloponnesian war had immigrated within the Long Walls of Athens, inflating the populations of both the polis of Athens and the port of Piraeus. The population had tripled in this time increasing chance of infection along with poor hygiene.[14]

Religious strife[edit]

The plague also caused religious uncertainty and doubt. Since the disease struck without regard to a person's piety toward the gods, people felt abandoned by the gods and there seemed to be no benefit to worshiping them.[15] The temples themselves were sites of great misery, as refugees from the Athenian countryside had been forced to find accommodation in the temples. Soon the sacred buildings were filled with the dead and dying. The Athenians pointed to the plague as evidence that the gods favored Sparta, and this was supported by an oracle that Apollo himself (the god of disease and medicine) would fight for Sparta if they fought with all their might. An earlier oracle had warned that "A Dorian [Spartan] war will come, and bring a pestilence with it".[16]

Thucydides is skeptical of these conclusions and believes that people were simply being superstitious. He relies upon the prevailing medical theory of the day, Hippocratic theory, and strives to gather evidence through direct observation. He notes that carrion-eating birds and animals disappeared as a result, though he leaves it an open question whether they died after eating the corpses or refused to eat them and were driven away:

All the birds and beasts that prey upon human bodies, either abstained from touching them (though there were many lying unburied), or died after tasting them. In proof of this, it was noticed that birds of this kind actually disappeared; they were not about the bodies, or indeed to be seen at all.[17]

Aftermath[edit]

The plague was an unforeseen event that resulted in one of the largest recorded loss of life in ancient Greece as well as a breakdown of Athenian society. The balance of power between citizens had changed due to many of the rich dying and their fortunes being inherited by remaining relatives of the lower class. According to Thucydides, those who had become ill and survived were the most sympathetic to others suffering: believing that they could no longer succumb to any illness, a number of survivors offered to assist with the remaining sick. The plague had also contributed to Athens' overall loss of power and ability to expand. Many of the remaining Athenians were found to be metics who had forged their documentation or had bribed officials to hide their original status. A number of these people were reduced to slaves once they were caught. This resulted in stricter laws dictating who can become an Athenian citizen, reducing both their number of potential soldiers and amount of political power, but also a decline in treatment and rights for metics in Athens. [18]

The plague dealt massive damage to Athens two years into the Peloponnesian War, from which it never recovered. Their political strength had weakened and morale among their armies as well as the citizens had fallen significantly. Athens would then go on to be defeated by Sparta and fall from being a major superpower in Ancient Greece.

11 Replies
sam1wiseone
Senior Contributor

Re: History Rhymes

Humanity has on occasion been confronted with terrible plagues.  Fortunately this is not one.  Imagine the plagues no history records that swept the western hemisphere after Europeans made contact.   We know millions died, but mostly before they had even seen a European.

BA Deere
Honored Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

Sam, we may not be in a bow & arrow war as Athens and Sparta, Coronavirus has a very good press agent that makes public reaction to it as devastating as a an actual plague.  Instead of Spartan arrows and spears we face a media socialism barrage of fear and fake news. 

What I find interesting is the result in Athens.

snip:

Fear of the law[edit]

Thucydides states that people ceased fearing the law since they felt they were already living under a death sentence. Likewise, people started spending money indiscriminately. Many felt they would not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of wise investment, while some of the poor unexpectedly became wealthy by inheriting the property of their relatives. It is also recorded that people refused to behave honorably because most did not expect to live long enough to enjoy a good reputation for it.[11]

sam1wiseone
Senior Contributor

Re: History Rhymes

I think the dishonor in our times is only related on the periphery to cv19.  As you've said we have an end date for this plague of Nov 4th.    RBG dies tomorrow and the world will literally explode.  You think democrats burning a few city blocks was bad. 

jennys_mn
Veteran Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

Wanna bet that this virus continues after November 4th if the Democrats win?   

You STILL think this virus is all a hoax....sure.   That’s why more and more hospitals are being overwhelmed.  That’s why we have 140,000, and actually many more, dead from the virus. Keep believing Trump....your little world is secure....

Republicans can’t win an election, without lying.... 

Jen

sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

While it won't stop anybody who's buttsore from trying, there's no honest counterfactual that gets you around this thing.

Do even less and you have a lot more deaths, faster, and economic devastation. Herd immunity is a fantasy.

The center of the scientific consensus was as correct as you can get on the fly. I'm sorry that it has turned out to be an inconvenience for the march to authoritarianism, but it is just a fact we have to live with.

 

sam1wiseone
Senior Contributor

Re: History Rhymes

 


@sdholloway56 wrote:

While it won't stop anybody who's buttsore from trying, there's no honest counterfactual that gets you around this thing.

Do even less and you have a lot more deaths, faster, and economic devastation. Herd immunity is a fantasy.

The center of the scientific consensus was as correct as you can get on the fly. I'm sorry that it has turned out to be an inconvenience for the march to authoritarianism, but it is just a fact we have to live with.

 


Do you people listen to yourselves?  "I want a federal government in complete control to avoid authoritarianism."

sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

Lol. Portland.

BA Deere
Honored Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

The virus could very well be with us for a decade, but the reporting on it will change November 4th if Biden wins.  I really don`t know if they`ll "play it"  by saying "well doggies, Shazam! it turns out it isn`t as bad as we once thought!"  meanwhile mobile morgues line the streets.  Or they might say "It`s still damned bad! Trump really messed it up!  We`re gonna take your guns, make you wear 4 masks, stay at home (unless you`re rioting) , raise your taxes... ... ... ... ... " .   I do know Chris Wallace isn`t going to sit prim & proper, legs crossed grilling president Biden on "spikes in cases" and such.

r3020
Senior Advisor

Re: History Rhymes

It completely disappear for the first three weeks of the dem riots.