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.
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
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
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.
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, 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.
of the worst-hit by the pandemic, lost between 17 and 18 million people, roughly 6% of
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