The Plague of Athens
was a devastating epidemic
which hit the city-state
in ancient Greece
during the second year of the Peloponnesian War
), when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. It is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus
, the city's port and sole source of food and supplies. The city-state of Sparta
, and much of the eastern Mediterranean, was also struck by the disease. The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/6 BC.
Sparta and her allies, with the exception of Corinth
, were almost exclusively land based powers, able to summon large land armies which were very nearly unbeatable. Under the direction of Pericles
, the Athenians retreated behind the city walls of Athens. They hoped to keep the Spartans at bay while the superior Athenian navy harassed Spartan troop transports and cut off supply lines. Unfortunately the strategy also resulted in adding many people from the countryside to an already well populated city. In addition, people from parts of Athens lying outside the city wall moved into the more protected central area. As a result, Athens became a breeding ground for disease.
In his History of the Peloponnesian War
, the contemporary historian Thucydides
described the coming of an epidemic disease which began in Ethiopia
, passed through Egypt
, and then to the Greek world. The epidemic broke out in the overcrowded city. Athens lost perhaps one third of the people sheltered within its walls.... Read More