Plagues And Diseases

Powerful Essays
Plagues and Diseases

Plague. A word that has struck fear in the hearts of man since the earliest of times. It has also lead to some of the greatest historical events and stories of our time. The ancient cities of Rome and Athens, in their downfall, were finished off by pestilence. The Bubonic Plague, also known as
The Black Death, devastated Europe in the 14th century, starting a new age. The great warrior Ivan the Terrible was stricken with disease, and driven mad.
During the "exploration" of the new world, Cortes's greatest ally against the
Aztecs was smallpox. Napoleon's Grand Army was defeated by the Russians, and typhus. Queen Victoria spread hemophilia to her heirs, leading to the illness of the only son of Czar Nicholas, and the fall of monarchy in Russia.1 All the events are horrible in every way, but have struck a chord with people around the world. Perhaps it is our inherent morbid curiosity. So, the question is, if these events happened once, why can't they happen again?
Let us take a look at the most horrible, so far, of the plagues: The
Black Death. It took Europe by storm from approximately 1345 to 1361. It would also make small comebacks throughout the next 400 years, but never like it did the first time. It also reached into Africa, China, Russia, and the
Scandinavian countries. It was truly a worldwide pandemic. But, it has a secondary effect that not many people are aware of. The colonies of Greenland, settled by the Vikings, were stricken by the plague and they soon disappeared.
It is known that these colonies kept in contact with "Vinland", which was near
New Foundland, in Canada. The Vikings had already discovered North America!
But, alas, with these colonies all dead, Greenland was forgotten, and not discovered again until 1585.2 It is estimated that the plague took 24 million lives, about a quarter of the European population. This may seem incredulous to people today, but it happened. During those times, where there were humans, there were black rats. And where there are rats, there are fleas. And where there were fleas, there was the plague. Bubonic plague, and also pneumonic plague, were everywhere. France, Italy, Russia, England, you name it. When a village was infected, people fled, most likely taking the plague with them to the next village.3 One ca...

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...n't, but it sure does sound good. I hope to have entertained you through this paper, and given you something to chew on for a few weeks. And I have just one more thought. When people think of the end of the world, they think of a big mushroom cloud destroying everyone in a pillar of light. But, I just don't see that. I see something less spectacular. When the end comes, it won't be with a bang. No one will see it coming. An army of the smallest soldiers will attack us from the inside out. One-billionth of our size, and they'll beat us.


1. Abel, Ernest L. America's Top 25 Killers. Hillside, N.J.: Enslow
Publishers Inc., 1991

2. Archer, Jules. Epidemic! New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1977.

3. Berger, Melvin. Disease Detectives. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell,

4. Cartwright, Fred F. Disease and History. New York: Thomas Y.
Crowell, 1972.

5. Guerrilla Warfare. "Time: Frontiers of Medicine." Vol. 148, No.4, Pg.

6. McNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Anchor
Press/Doubleday, 1976.
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