Diseases, plagues and pandemics have set the fate of wars and civilisations, such as Troy, Persia, Greece or Alexander the Great’s empire.
Pandemics have existed throughout history and determined the fate of wars and entire civilisations, such as Troy, Persia, Athens, or even the empire of Alexander the Great, according to a renowned Turkish archaeologist and historian.
This is what stated Professor Rüstem Aslan, academic of the Department of Archaeology of the March 18 University of Çanakkale (Turkey) and head of the excavations in the ruins of Troy; Aslan emphasises that during the last days of the Trojan War, it is said that the god Apollo infected the camps of the Achaean soldiers with a plague, causing serious losses among their ranks, and that thanks to that during a counterattack the Trojans were able to inflict major damage on them.
Aslan, who adds that despite the coronavirus pandemic archaeological excavations in the ruins of Troy have continued, insisted that pandemics and plagues have been a determining factor in many conflicts in history. This is also the case of the Hittite Empire, a great power around 1,300 BC, which succumbed to numerous epidemics that considerably reduced its population and its army.
Another pandemic also destroyed Assyria in 765 BC, according to Aslan, who also refers to the Persian king Xerxes I, who faced Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae; during the expedition against Greece in 480 BC, Xerxes lost numerous soldiers due to a plague that ravaged his army as it passed through Thrace and Macedonia, eventually forcing him to return to Persia.
A plague forced Alexander the Great to stop in India
Another well-known example among historians of a plague during a war in ancient times is that of Alexander the Great. In 334 BC, after the famous Battle of the Granicus in Northwestern Turkey in which Alexander defeated for 1st time the Persians, the Macedonian king visited Troy and then continued his campaign to the east, conquering the Persian Empire and their satrapies.
However, Alexander had to stop when he reached India despite his desire to continue his conquests, and return to Babylon in 325 BC; and the main reason, according to Aslan, was that a pandemic was decimating the ranks of his army. Alexander the Great himself is believed to have died of a malaria epidemic that ravaged Babylon in 323 AD, “although this is still controversial among experts,” adds the historian.
Another epidemic decided the war between Athens and Sparta
Another example of an epidemic deciding the fate of a war is the plague that ravaged the city of Athens during the Peloponnesian War (431 BC – 404 BC), between the cities formed by the League of Delos (led by Athens) and the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) for the control of trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. “This plague also determined the fate of the war,” says Aslan.
“The famous historian Thucydides referred to the pandemic as a punishment from the gods. He too fell ill, and described in detail the phases of the pandemic. His chronicle, in which he explains the whole process (of the disease) until he was cured, is considered the first written document in the history on immunology”, affirms the archaeologist working in the ruins of Troy.
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As a history lover, Pablo was captivated by Turkey from the first day he visited it in 2006: he got married there, has a house there… and has since become an expert on Turkey’s current affairs. With a long experience in media, he has been at the helm of hispanatolia.com since 2011, and now also of anatoliatoday.com