Pandemics: "Humans will always be helplessly exposed to the plague"

SPIEGEL: "Plagues make history," said US historian William McNeill. Scientists argue that the "Attic Plague" in the 5th century BC BC accelerated the decline of Athens, the malaria swept away the Roman Empire, the plague ushered in modern times. How much explosive power do pandemics have?

Eckart: As a historian, can I use the older term "epidemics"? SPIEGEL: Go ahead.

Eckart: I would be skeptical whether epidemics brought down empires or caused new ones to emerge. But they have undoubtedly changed the course of history and left recognizable traces. Take, for example, the "Justinianic plague" that raged in the Mediterranean in the 6th century: It prevented the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian from implementing his plan of the Restauratio Imperii, ie the restoration of the unified Roman Empire, with great certainty. Epidemics almost always encounter or cause serious political and social structural changes.

SPIEGEL: They mostly occur in the wake of wars or crises.

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