Plague in the Ancient and Medieval World

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Ibolya Horvath
by The Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages
published on 07 April 2020
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The word 'plague', in defining a lethal epidemic, was coined by the physician Galen (l. 130-210 CE) who lived through the Antonine Plague (165 - c. 180/190 CE) but the disease was recorded long before in relating the affliction of the Plague of Athens (429-426 BCE) which killed many of the city’s inhabitants, including the statesman Pericles (l. 495-429 BCE). This epidemic, and some of the others that followed, may or may not have been actual plague as it was later defined; ancient writers tended to use the term plague for any widespread outbreak of pestilence.

Plagues certainly may have existed prior to the Athenian outbreak – and almost certainly did – but most studies of the epidemic begin with Athens as it is the first recorded by an eyewitness and survivor, the historian Thucydides (l. 460/455 - 399/398 BCE). Plagues are routinely named either for the person who reported them, the monarch at the time of the outbreak, the region afflicted, or by an epithet as in the case of the Black Death.

Original Article Plague in the Ancient & Medieval World—medieval-world/

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Ages, T. S. o. A. a. t. M. (2020, April 07). Plague in the Ancient and Medieval World. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Ages, The Study of Antiquity and the Middle. "Plague in the Ancient and Medieval World." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 07, 2020.

MLA Style

Ages, The Study of Antiquity and the Middle. "Plague in the Ancient and Medieval World." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 07 Apr 2020. Web. 03 Dec 2021.