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The Plague of Athens (Ancient Greek: Λοιμὸς τῶν Ἀθηνῶν, Loimos tôn Athênôn) was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year (430 BC) of the Peloponnesian War when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. The plague killed an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people, around one quarter of the population, and is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus, the city's port and sole source of food and supplies.[1] Much of the eastern Mediterranean also saw an outbreak of the disease, albeit with less impact.[2]

The plague had serious effects on Athens' society, resulting in a lack of adherence to laws and religious belief; in response laws became stricter, resulting in the punishment of non-citizens claiming to be Athenian. In addition, Pericles, the leader of Athens, died from the plague.[3] The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/426 BC. Some 30 pathogens have been suggested as having caused the plague.[4]

The perceived impact of the Athenian plague on collective social and religious behavior e

The perceived impact of the Athenian plague on collective social and religious behavior echoes accounts of the medieval pandemic best known as the Black Death,[8] although scholars have disputed its objective veracity in both instances, citing a historical link between epidemic disease and unsubstantiated moral panic that bordered on hysteria.[9][10]

Fear of the law

A 2005 DNA study of dental pulp from teeth recovered from an ancient Greek burial pit, led by the orthodontist Dr. Manolis Papagrigorakis of the University of Athens, found DNA sequences similar to those of Salmonella enterica (S. enterica), the organism that causes typhoid fever.[24]

A second group of researchers, including American evolutionary molecular biologist Dr. Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, disputed the Papagrigorakis team's findings, citing what they claim are serious methodological flaws.DNA study of dental pulp from teeth recovered from an ancient Greek burial pit, led by the orthodontist Dr. Manolis Papagrigorakis of the University of Athens, found DNA sequences similar to those of Salmonella enterica (S. enterica), the organism that causes typhoid fever.[24]

A second group of researchers, including American evolutionary molecular biologist Dr. Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, disputed the Pap

A second group of researchers, including American evolutionary molecular biologist Dr. Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, disputed the Papagrigorakis team's findings, citing what they claim are serious methodological flaws.[25] In a letter to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Shapiro et al. stated that "while this DNA analysis confirms that the Athens sequence is possibly Salmonella, it demonstrates clearly that it is not typhoid."[26]

The technique used by the Papagrigorakis team (PCR) has shown itself to be prone to contamination-induced false-positive results, and the source burial site is known to have been heavily trafficked in antiquity by hogs, carriers of another Salmonella serovar that may have been confused with the one that causes typhoid fever. Nonetheless, the Papagrigorakis team assert that the basis of this refutation is flimsy,[27] and that the methodology used by the Shapiro team has historically produced conflicting results.[28]

Thucydides' narrative pointedly refers to increased risk among caregivers, more typical of the person-to-person contact spread of viral hemorrhagic fever (e.g., Ebola virus disease or Marburg virus) than typhus or typhoid. Unusual in the history of plagues during military operations, besieging Spartan troops are described as not having been afflicted by the illness raging near them within the city. Thucydides' description further invites comparison with VHF in the character and sequence of symptoms developed, and of the usual fatal outcome on about the eighth day. Some scientists have interpreted Thucydides' expression "lygx kenē" (λύγξ κενή) as the unusual symptom of hiccups,[29] which is now recognized as a common finding in Ebola virus disease. Outbreaks of VHF in Africa in 2012 and 2014 reinforced observations of the increased hazard to caregivers and the necessity of barrier precautions for preventing disease spread related to grief rituals and funerary rites. The 2015 west African Ebola outbreak noted persistence of effects on genitalia and eyes in some survivors, both described by Thucydides. With an up to 21-day clinical incubation period, and up to 565-day infectious potential recently demonstrated in a semen-transmitted infection, movement of Ebola via Nile commerce into the busy port of Piraeus is plausible. Ancient Greek intimacy with African sources is reflected in accurate renditions of monkeys in art of frescoes and pottery, most notably guenons (Cercopithecus), the type of primates responsible for transmitting Marburg virus into Germany and Yugoslavia when that disease was first characterized in 1967. Circumstantially tantalizing is the requirement for the large quantity of ivory used in the Athenian sculptor Phidias’ two monumental ivory and gold statues of Athena and of Zeus (one of the Seven Wonders), which were fabricated in the same decade. Never again in antiquity was ivory used on such a large scale.

A second ancient narrative suggesting hemorrhagic fever etiology is that of Titus Lucretius Carus. Writing in the 1st century BC, Lucretius characterized the Athenian plague as having "bloody" or black discharges from bodily orifices. Lucretius cited and was

A second ancient narrative suggesting hemorrhagic fever etiology is that of Titus Lucretius Carus. Writing in the 1st century BC, Lucretius characterized the Athenian plague as having "bloody" or black discharges from bodily orifices. Lucretius cited and was an admirer of scientific predecessors in Greek Sicily Empedocles and Acron. While none of the original works of Acron, a physician, are extant, it is reported that he died c. 430 BC after travel to Athens to combat the plague.

Unfortunately DNA sequence-based identification is limited by the inability of some important pathogens to leave a "footprint" retrievable from archaeological remains after several millennia. The lack of a durable signature by RNA viruses means some etiologies, notably the hemorrhagic fever viruses, are not testable hypotheses using currently available scientific techniques.