Illustration by Matrioshka, Adobe.

An illustrated history of the world’s deadliest epidemics, from ancient Rome to Covid-19

January 16, 2023

Erik English

Erik English is an associate multimedia editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He has worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the... Read More

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Garry Jolley-Rogers
4 months ago

An excellent article with stunning supporting graphics. It underlines the role of pandemic disease in history – often as the catalyst of collapse and change in empires.

China, India, and Africa do not have a great presence in this narrative. I understand why this would be the case. But I do wonder how much more there is to learn. And how much of the warp and weft of the human story is determined by disease.

Rob Jones
Rob Jones
4 months ago

Interestingly enough, while what happened in Mexico is described in detail, there is also little coverage of the native deaths in North America and South America. Clearly, we have documentation of the great numbers of peoples who were described in the Mississippi Valley that had disappeared a few years later. I have read that 18 million native people died in North America alone. (Unfortunately, the rest were hunted for sport or displaced from their native lands. As usual we think today that North America was unpopulated when Europeans arrived–it was not. Andrew Jackson did his best to remove any remaining… Read more »

4 months ago

The Persian plague epidemic of 1772–1773, also simply known as the Persian Plague, was a massive outbreak of plague, more specifically Bubonic plague, in the Persian Empire, which claimed around 2 million lives in total.It was one of the most devastating Plague epidemics in recorded human history. The outbreak resulted in the introduction of several quarantine measures for the first time in the Persian Gulf regions. The epidemic is believed to have “started in Baghdad in the winter of 1772.” It then spread to other parts of the Persian-controlled lands. By 1773, the epidemic reached Basra, where it proved to be especially devastating, claiming more than 250,000 lives there alone.The Plague then… Read more »