Essay on The Impact of Smallpox on the New World

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The Impact of Smallpox on the New World

Transportation and migration has been important to Homo sapiens since the time of the hunter-gatherer. Humans have used the different methods of transportation since this time for a number of reasons (i.e. survival in the case of the hunter-gatherer, to spread religion, or in order to search for precious minerals and spices). What few of these human travelers failed to realize is that often diseases were migrating with them. This essay will look at the spread of the disease smallpox. In the following I hope to reveal the history of smallpox as well as why it devastated the New World.

In order to understand the history of smallpox one first has to understand how diseases like it evolve. Much
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Smallpox is a disease that is believed to have originated around 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt. By 430 B.C. it appears that it reached Athens via trade ships according to records kept by the Athenian historian Thucydides. "The Plague of Athens", the name the Greeks had for the disease, spread to the Roman Empire by 150 A.D. by way of the returning army from Greece. From this point on, smallpox moved throughout the European and North African regions in various ways.(Thomson, 118) Mark Thomson, author of "The Migration of Smallpox and its Incredible Footprint on Latin America", explains:

Religious movements helped spread the disease. Islamic armies are believed to have brought smallpox from north Africa to Spain, Portugal and France. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the religious crusades to western Asia helped to reintroduce and further spread smallpox in Europe. Smallpox also accompanied armies bent on conquest, merchants following trade routs and expanding populations. By the fourteenth century, smallpox was well-established in Germany, Spain, Italy and France. (Thomson, 118)

Ultimately, smallpox would reach the New World. A large carrier of the disease to the New World was not the Europeans in search of new lands, rather, the slaves the Europeans carried over in the cramped quarters of a ship where the disease could spread

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