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Introduction to influence of Pandemics in history

  • Pandemics have had great influence in shaping human society and politics throughout history.
  • From the Justinian Plague of sixth century to the Spanish flu of last century, pandemics have triggered the collapse of empires, weakened pre-eminent powers and institutions, created social upheaval and brought down wars.

Justinian Plague

  • One of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history broke out in the sixth century in Egypt and spread fast to Constantinople, which was the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
  • The plague was named after the then Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The outbreak, which spread from Constantinople to both the West and East, had killed up to 25 to 100 million people.
  • The Plague came back in different waves and by the time plague disappeared, the Empire had lost territories in Europe to the Germanic-speaking Franks and Egypt and Syria to the Arabs.

Black Death

  • The Black Death, or pestilence, that hit Europe and Asia in the14th century was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history.
  • It killed some 75 to 200 million people, according to various estimates.
  • In early 1340s, the plague struck China, India, Syria and Egypt.
  • It arrived in Europe in 1347, where up to 50% of the population died of the disease.
  • The outbreak also had lasting economic and social consequences.
  • In parts of Europe, wages tripled as labour demand rose. And once the economy started improving, the landowning class pressured authorities to check rising labour costs.
  • In England, the Crown passed legislation in this regard the tensions created by which would eventually lead to the Peasant Revolt of 1381.
  • The pandemic also led to largescale Jewish persecution in Europe. Jews, blamed for spreading the illness, were burned alive in many parts of the continent.
  • The most significant impact of the Black Death was perhaps the weakening of the Catholic Church.

Spanish Flu

  • Spanish Flu, which broke out during the last phase of First World War, was the deadliest pandemic of the last century that killed up to 50 million people.
  • The flu was first recorded in Europe and then spread fast to America and Asia.
  • India, one of the worst-hit by the pandemic, lost between 17 and 18 million people, roughly 6% of its population.
  • One of the major impacts of the outbreak was on the result of the war.
  • Though the flu hit both sides, the Germans and Austrians were affected so badly that the outbreak derailed their offensives.


  • It’s too early to say how the COVID-19 outbreak that has already infected about 2 million and killed over 1,26,000 people would change the world.
  • But the outbreak has seen countries, both democratic and dictatorial, imposing drastic restrictions on people’s movements.
  • The western world, the centre of the post-World War order, lies exposed to the attack of the virus.
  • Unemployment rate in the U.S. has shot up to the levels not seen since the end of Second World War.
  • Governments across the world, including the U.S. administration, are beefing up spending to stimulate an economy that shows signs of depression. Radical changes, good or bad, are already unfolding.
December 2023