Between roughly A.D. 250-271, a series of deadly epidemics swept through the Roman Empire – Egypt. The so-called Plague of Cyprian claimed approximately 25 percent of those living in the Roman Empire, which included Egypt at the time, As many as 5,000 victims died each day in Rome alone.
Saint Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (in Tunisia), wrote extensively of the plague’s horrific effects on its victims, and claimed that the disease signaled the end of the world. Cyprian wrote a detailed description of the progress of the disease in “De mortalitate:”
“The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth).” Cyprian added that the intestines “are shaken with a continual vomiting, the eyes are on fire with the injected blood,” and that in some instances, “the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction.”
Researchers believe the disease described by Cyprian was smallpox which is caused by the Variola major or minor viruses. The disease has been around for over 10.000 years. As in the picture, the victim is initially covered in a rash which becomes fluid-filled blisters. About 20-65% of the people who caught the disease died, but it was especially lethal among children. Those who survived were often badly scarred – especially on the face, were blinded, and their limbs might be deformed.
In 1967 the World Health Organization identified as many as fifteen million victims a year with two million dying from the disease. After vaccination campaigns for two centuries, smallpox was eradicated in 1979.
Tomorrow, More about Cyprian and the Plague