Plagues and Peoples
Smallpox Chapter 9, C.R. 1008-1010, 279-286
Textbook Chapter 9: Smallpox, the Spotted Plague (191)
- Smallpox killed the Aztecs in the war between Cortes (Spaniards) and Aztecs.
- In 1520, an expedition led by Panfilo de Narveez arrived from Spanish Cuba; among the crew was a smallpox-
infected slave. From this initial infection, smallpox spread from village to village throughout the Yucatan –
famine and havoc resulted.
- In the time of Cortes , 3 million Amerindians, 1/3 of total of Mexico, were killed by Smallpox.
- Smallpox also affected the battle between Francisco Pizarro (Spanish) and Atahualpa (Inca Empire) in 1532
because smallpox wiped out most of the Inca Empire in 1526 and they were vulnerable for Pizarro.
- Smallpox spread in advance of the Spaniards’ entry into Mexico and Peru.
- Disease moved ahead of the Spanish and, in effect, smallpox cleared the way.
- In the 20th century only, smallpox killed 300 million people – 3x the # of deaths from all 20th century wars.
- Smallpox has been involved not only with war but also with exploration and migration.
- Smallpox is indiscriminate, with no respect for social class, occupation, or age.
- In Europe, the use of makeup began among wealthy survivors in order to hid smallpox-induced scars.
A Look Back (192)
- When smallpox began to infect humans is not known; it is thought that humans got it from one of the pox-like
diseases of domesticated animals in Asia or Africa, sometime after 10 000 B.C.
- Best evidence of smallpox in humans is found in 3 Egyptian mummies (1570 – 1085 B.C.) – one of which is
Pharaoh Ramses V (five).
- Mummified face, neck, and shoulders of the Pharaoh bear the telltale scars of smallpox: pockmarks.
- Smallpox spread from the West to China, first appearing about 200 B.C.
- Trade caravans assisted in the spread of smallpox, but at time of Christ’s birth, it was not established in Europe
– the populations were too small and greatly dispersed.
- Smallpox was known in Greece and Rome, but was not a health threat till about AD 100 – Plague of Antonius.
- Epidemic started in Mesopotamia and the returning soldiers brought it home to Italy. It raged for 15 years and
2000 deaths daily in Rome. Marcus Aurelius died of smallpox in AD 180.
- Smallpox and malaria contributed to the decline of Roman Empire.
- Records of smallpox in Korean peninsula (AD583), Japan (AD 585), Western Eurasia (8th & 9th century during
Islamic expansion across North Africa and into Spain and Portugal), and Huns were infected in Persia or India.
- In records: smallpox was established in Italy & France in 5th century, but it is believed Huns brought it to
- Christian priest, Ahrun, (AD 622) and Persian physician, Al-Razi, (AD 910) wrote a clear description of
smallpox, differentiating it from measles.
- By AD 1000, smallpox endemic in densely populated parts of Eurasia, African countries (Mediterranean Sea
- Traders, slavers, and caravans helped spread the disease.
- Smallpox reintroduced to Europe through movement of people to & from Asia Minor during Crusades in 12th &
- As Europe’s population increased, smallpox epidemics appeared with increasing intensity and frequency.
- Smallpox serious in England and Europe in 16th century.
- Smallpox went with British and Europeans into newly discovered Americas, Australia, and Africa.
- Smallpox also contributed to the settlement of North America by French and English.
- English used smallpox as a germ warfare in 1763 in war between England and France. Sir Geoffrey
(Commander-in-Chief of North America) sent smallpox-infected blankets to Indians – Indians lost.
- In 1490, smallpox was spread to Southern regions of West Africa by Portuguese.
- Smallpox first introduced to South Africa by ship docking in Capetown in 1713 that carried contaminated bed
linen from India.
- 1st outbreak in Americas – African slaves on the island of Hispaniola in 1518.
- Slaves also brought smallpox to the Portuguese colony of Brazil.