Malaria has had a profound influence on ancient Greek history. Describe what this disease is and discuss this influence, especially the reasons for its impact.

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Malaria is a zoonotic disease spread through the bites of certain species of mosquitos. To this day, it remains one of the most deadly diseases around the world. Malaria has a particularly high mortality rate among infants and children, as well as the elderly. Instances and epidemics of malaria were recorded in ancient Greece as early as the fifth century BCE. Hippocrates of Kos recorded outbreaks of what was likely malaria. While he did not know that mosquitos were a vector for this disease, he did link it to seasonal and climatic conditions, as outbreaks usually occurred in the fall. It is also likely the disease described by Sophocles in his play Philoctetes.

In the first decade of the 20th Century, classicist W.H.S. Jones and biologist Ronald Ross teamed up to study the possible effects of malaria in ancient Greece. They hypothesized that malarial outbreaks were a leading cause of the decline of Greece's golden age in the fourth century BCE.

Classical Greece was made up of independent city-states. Malaria tends to occur locally. During the fourth century BCE, certain Greek city-states were on the decline while others were not. It has been hypothesized by Jones and Ross that local outbreaks, such as in Thasos, decimated the local population and made them less competitive with the city-states that did not suffer from outbreaks.

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Malaria is a disease caused in humans by plasmodium parasites. Its symptom include fever, headache, and chills, and it can lead to severe illness and even death. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Malaria is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. When female mosquitoes bite humans infected with the disease, they become infected and then spread the parasite as they bite other humans.

Malaria originated in sub-Saharan Africa and spread to Greece in antiquity. Several areas of swamp or marshland provided breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and deforestation contributed to the spread of suitable habitats. Outbreaks, usually in autumn, were recorded by Hippocrates and later authors who accurately described the symptoms of the disease.

In the early-twentieth century, the classical historian W.H.S. Jones and Nobel-prize winning biologist Ronald Ross collaborated to study malaria in ancient Greece. Their claim that malaria had a significant impact on Greek history was advanced at length in Jones’s books, Malaria, a neglected factor in the history of Greece (1907) and Malaria and Greek History (1909). Reception of the work was mixed, but scholars continue to study the hypothesis. The validity of the "Jones hypothesis" is still a matter of debate.

Malaria and other epidemic diseases did contribute to a high infant-mortality rate in some areas of ancient Greece, notably Thasos where several outbreaks were recorded. It was not prevalent, however, in Athens. It might be possible to argue that presence or absence of malaria contributed to the relative success of different Greek regions, but more research would be needed to substantiate such a claim.

Scholars have argued that Alexander the Great died of either malaria or typhoid fever. If malaria was the cause of his death, that would count as a significant historical impact.

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Malaria is an infectious disease carried by mosquitos that affects humans and animals. The most common symptoms include: fever, vomiting, and headaches. Severe symptoms include seizures, coma, yellow skin, and death. The disease takes 10 to 15 days following an infected mosquito bite before symptoms show.

The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions around the equator, including Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. In 2018, over 90% of cases (228 million) and deaths (405,000) occurred in Africa.

Herodotus, the historian from ancient Greece, wrote that those who built the pyramids in Egypt were given large doses of garlic to combat the disease.

In the fourth century, the disease became very well known in ancient Greece, and the decline of many city-state populations is in part attributed to Malaria. Hippocrates, also known as the “father of medicine” was able to relate the fevers to specific environmental and climate conditions, which shows his knowledge that the fever did not affect the Greeks in a consistent manner. He was unable to discover the carrier of the disease, however. Hippocrates also wrote about fumes which he believed came from the ground and were transported by wind that could cause illness. His thinking regarding how the disease spreads was elementary today but revolutionary at the time.

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In the early 20th century, a doctor and a classicist (controversially) argued that the decline of Ancient Greek civilization was caused by malaria.

Malaria, Italian for “bad air,” is a parasitic disease spread by the female Anopheles mosquito. A mosquito is infected when it bites an infected human. The parasites it ingests with its blood meal replicate and grow in the mosquito. After 10–18 days, the parasites can be found in the insect’s saliva. The parasites are injected with the saliva when the mosquito takes a blood meal from another human. Mosquitos and malaria thrive in tropical and subtropical climates—warm, humid regions without much temperature variation. In humans, malaria causes flu-like symptoms: fever, chills, fatigue, and mental-status changes.

Sir Ronald Ross, a physician awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for identifying the mosquito as a malaria vector, believed the mountain valleys, fountains, and streams that surrounded villages in Ancient Greece were ideal breeding grounds for the Anopheles. In his introduction to classicist W.H.S. Jones’s 1909 book, Malaria, a Neglected Factor in the History of Greece and Rome, Ross supports Jones’s theory that the decline of Ancient Greek civilization was predicated on the spread of malaria throughout the region.

Jones believed that malaria was brought to the Mediterranean in the fourth century B.C. by “soldiers, merchants, or slaves coming from Africa or Asia” (9). He argues that symptoms of the disease led to less activity in cities, a decrease in intellectual vigor, decaying patriotism, sentimentalism in art and pessimism in philosophy (15). “By 300 B.C.,” he writes, “the Greeks had lost much of their manly vigour and intellectual strength” (15). The fall of a great civilization, all because of a mosquito.

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