Scientists have for many years debated the cause of the Plague of Athens. Analysis carried out by Manolis Papagrigorakis and colleagues using DNA collected from teeth from an ancient Greek burial pit points to typhoid fever as the disease responsible for this devastating epidemic. The study appears on the online version of The International Journal of Infectious Diseases (IJID) published by Elsevier on behalf of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.
The plague that began in Ethiopia and passed through Egypt and Libya to Greece in 430-426 B.C. changed the balance of power between Athens and Sparta, ending the Golden Age of Pericles and Athenian dominance in the ancient world. It is thought that up to one third of the Athenians, including their charismatic leader, Pericles, perished in the epidemic.
Until now our understanding of this outbreak was based on the account by the fifth century B.C. Greek historian Thucydides, who himself was taken ill with the plague but recovered. Despite Thucydides’ detailed description, researchers have not managed to agree on the identity of the plague and several diseases, including bubonic plague, smallpox, anthrax and measles have been implicated in the emergence and spread of this epidemic.
Catherine O’Hara | EurekAlert!
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