The Antonine Plague

The Antonine Plague

The Antonine Plague 365 290 Brading Roman Villa

The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen (after Galen, the physician who described it), was an ancient pandemic brought to the Roman Empire by troops who were returning from various campaigns. It is thought that the disease may have been either smallpox or measles. The plague possibly claimed the life of  the emperor, Lucius Verus, who died in 169 and was the co-regent of Marcus  Aurelius Antoninus, whose name has become associated with the pandemic.

I have discovered a Roman sure fire way of keeping our current disease, Coronavirus at bay. All you do is put a notice above your door saying “Phoebus, the god unshorn, keepeth off the plague`s nebulous onset”.

Works like a charm.

Seriously, the above was apparently the government advice of the day during the Antonine Plague, a pandemic which at its height was killing 2000 a day in Rome alone. Wiped out 5 million worldwide with a 25% death rate amongst infected victims.

The above charm was seen everywhere.

Interestingly, later historians have noted that records seem to suggest that the ‘charmed’ households actually had a higher death toll than others, and have deduced that the occupants, having made the assumption that they were now ‘protected’, consequently were very lax with, or ignored completely, basic hygiene and quarantine rules.

Thanks to Helen Williams for this weeks Blog. Helen is a museum guide and volunteer at Brading Roman Villa.

Image: The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome: an engraving by Levasseur after Jules-Elie Delauna