Date of Award

Spring 2013


In the summer of 430 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, a plague hit Athens a few days after the Spartans besieged the city. The plague raged continuously for two years and broke out again in 427 B.C. Most of the population was infected, and approximately 25% of the population died. Thucydides wrote History of the Peloponnesian War, which is the main literary source for the plague and other events in the Peloponnesian War. Although Thucydides took great pains to carefully describe the clinical features of the disease, physicians and classicists disagree on the identification of the disease. In the past hundred years, scholars have argued for over thirty-nine diseases, but no conclusive argument has been made for a particular disease. In order to narrow down the possible diseases, I used a descriptive epidemiological analysis of Thucydides’ description to determine modes of transmission. A respiratory disease with a means of persistence or a vector-borne reservoir disease (insect or animal) are the two modes of transmission most consistent with the epidemiological information. Finally, using Thucydides’ description of the clinical features, I concluded that Rickettsia prowazekii was the disease of the Athenian Plague.


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