Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Sign in to follow this  
vespasian70

The Antonine Plague

Recommended Posts

Currently I'm reading John Kelly's 'The great Mortality' and in the book he makes a passing reference to the Antonine plauge of the 160's stating that it killed off between one quarter and one third of Roman Europe's population. These stats are comparable to the Black Death 1200 years later. Funny it's not as well known.

 

If Europe's population plunged from 50 to 70 million people in the 2nd and 3rd centuries to 25 or 26 million by 700, how much of this is due to the plague? Smallpox being the culprit.

 

And what are the primary sources for our information about the Antonine Plague and has anyone done a more recent study of it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A vexed question indeed. I have blogged on site (March 8th..Plague and Rye) regarding possible co-factors in population morbidity. I also have a pending review regarding the book "Justinian's Flea" (no explanation needed given the title and the well known episode of "plague").

My tentative suggestion is that all plagues (regardless of what the actual "plague") was , any disease that targets a population with immune defence deficiency would do and smallpox is nicely contagious (speaking from the point of view of the efficiency of the bacillus), this doesnt dismiss bubonic plague as such , but perhaps widens the scope of multiple disease vectors hidden by more marked physical affliction.

Microbial survivals are rare in the extreme and as far as I am aware few records survive from the Antonine episode.The Justinian plague is perhaps the most disastrous in cultural terms for Romanophiles, cohort mortality was such that men could not be found to serve or be impressed to keep the army in a functioning condition.

Christine Smith has this essay :

http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1996-7/Smith.html

not directly what you are hoping for , but food for thought at least.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Pertinax for the helpful link!

 

The footnotes to the article do mention some sources (Galen of course being one) and more recent studies on the Antonine plague, which is a great starting point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Was the Antonine Plague a plague of smallpox--or measles?

 

R. S. Gottfried in his book 'The Black Death' claims it was smallpox and probably marks the first introduction of it in Mediterranean Europe. Apparently the pox lasted for 15 yrs, devestating Italy, Egypt, and Asia Minor. It is thought that small pox was present in some Germanic tribes, but was never transmitted from across the Rhine. Roman legionaries arriving from the east seem to be the culprits.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Was the Antonine Plague a plague of smallpox--or measles?
R. S. Gottfried in his book 'The Black Death' claims it was smallpox and probably marks the first introduction of it in Mediterranean Europe. Apparently the pox lasted for 15 yrs, devestating Italy, Egypt, and Asia Minor. It is thought that small pox was present in some Germanic tribes, but was never transmitted from across the Rhine. Roman legionaries arriving from the east seem to be the culprits.

 

Is there anything in the description of the symptoms that allow a smallpox rather than a measles diagnosis?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Was the Antonine Plague a plague of smallpox--or measles?
R. S. Gottfried in his book 'The Black Death' claims it was smallpox and probably marks the first introduction of it in Mediterranean Europe. Apparently the pox lasted for 15 yrs, devestating Italy, Egypt, and Asia Minor. It is thought that small pox was present in some Germanic tribes, but was never transmitted from across the Rhine. Roman legionaries arriving from the east seem to be the culprits.

 

Is there anything in the description of the symptoms that allow a smallpox rather than a measles diagnosis?

 

The link Pertinax posted had this to say in a footnote:

'There are two major sources for information about the Antonine plague. Galen listed some of the symptoms of the pestilence in On the Natural Faculties; however, since he did not go with Marcus Aurelius on campaign, he possibly did not see the disease first hand. Other plague information is included in the Letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, who was a tutor of Marcus Aurelius. '

 

Galen seems to be our man.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For differential diagnosis, the most important symptom described by Galen is an exanthem, which strongly indicates smallpox.

Indeed yes, or possibly measles or rubella, sometimes ( in a situation where personal cleanliness is hampered by heat and proximity of persons) a staphylococcus infection causing toxic shock . All these are very straightforward pathogens .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Salve!

Here comes the abstract of a recent review:

(The Antonine plague by C. Haas, Bull Acad Natl Med. 2006 Apr-May; vol. 190(n. 4-5):Pg. 1093-8. In french)

(Reference at the NCBI)

 

"During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire was struck by a long and destructive epidemic.

It began in Mesopotamia in late AD 165 or early AD 166 during Verus' Parthian campaign, and quickly spread to Rome.

It lasted at least until the death of Marcus Aurelius in AD 180 and likely into the early part of Commodus' reign.

Its victims were "innumerable".

Galen had first-hand knowledge of the disease.

He was in Rome when the plague reached the city in AD 166.

He was also present during an outbreak among troops stationed at Aquileia during the winter of AD 168-169.

His references to the plague are scattered and brief but enough information is available to firmly identify the plague as smallpox.

His description of the exanthema is fairly typical of the smallpox rash, particularly in the hemorrhagic phase of the disease."

 

I hope this may be useful.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Salve!

Galen had first-hand knowledge of the disease.

He was in Rome when the plague reached the city in AD 166.

He was also present during an outbreak among troops stationed at Aquileia during the winter of AD 168-169.

His references to the plague are scattered and brief but enough information is available to firmly identify the plague as smallpox.

His description of the exanthema is fairly typical of the smallpox rash, particularly in the hemorrhagic phase of the disease."

 

I hope this may be useful.

 

Galen was hardly the self-sacrificing physician. He first abandoned the city at the onset of the plague. He was coerced to return to the city on the request of the emperor.

 

Although I agree that the Antonine plague probably represents smallpox, I can't be so dogmatic. First, an exanthem is just a widespread rash. Although is it usually infectious, it can be drug-induced, also. It is certainly not specific for smallpox.

 

Second, I would have been more persuaded if the ancient sources had mentioned the horrible vesicles (blisters) associated with smallpox. (Think the worst case of chickenpox.) These vesicles quickly pustulate (to form "pus blisters"). The feature of widespread blisters is an unforgettable characteristic of smallpox, however.

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Galen was hardly the self-sacrificing physician. He first abandoned the city at the onset of the plague. He was coerced to return to the city on the request of the emperor.

 

Although I agree that the Antonine plague probably represents smallpox, I can't be so dogmatic. First, an exanthem is just a widespread rash. Although is it usually infectious, it can be drug-induced, also. It is certainly not specific for smallpox.

 

Second, I would have been more persuaded if the ancient sources had mentioned the horrible vesicles (blisters) associated with smallpox. (Think the worst case of chickenpox.) These vesicles quickly pustulate (to form "pus blisters"). The feature of widespread blisters is an unforgettable characteristic of smallpox, however.

 

guy also known as gaius

Salve, G.

 

Your quoting is incomplete, because it lacks the source of the abstract, Dr. C.(Charles N.) Haas.

 

You can get his e-mail at the Drexler University, Philadelphi, PA, to send him your questions and/or commentaries (or alternatively, via the Bulletin de l'Acad

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Currently I'm reading John Kelly's 'The great Mortality' and in the book he makes a passing reference to the Antonine plauge of the 160's stating that it killed off between one quarter and one third of Roman Europe's population. These stats are comparable to the Black Death 1200 years later. Funny it's not as well known.

 

Very interesting, I've never even heard it mention before. How much people are counted to have lived in the Roman empire at this time? One quarter to one third doesn't' tell me too much in all honesty (Except that we are talking in millions).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[salve, G.

 

Your quoting is incomplete, because it lacks the source of the abstract, Dr. C.(Charles N.) Haas.

 

You can get his e-mail at the Drexler University, Philadelphi, PA, to send him your questions and/or commentaries (or alternatively, via the Bulletin de l'Acad

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×