10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

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Epidemics (roughly translated meaning “Upon People” from ancient Greek epi = “upon/above” and demos = “people”) were historically and are still among the biggest concerns for humanity. The term epidemic describes infectious diseases that are quickly spreading among people of a certain population. If the epidemic spreads to most or all parts of the world, the disease then becomes pandemic. A pandemic can therefore be described as an intercontinental, worldwide or global epidemic.

As the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic shows, epidemics tend to now even spread faster in our modern globalized world. In fact, many leading scientists and experts on the topic consider the threat of epidemics the major threat for humanity as a whole, even more so than climate change. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people in the world, is one of them. He has been warning the world of new major disease outbreaks that will spread quickly throughout the world for quite some years now.

But epidemics and pandemics of course have existed long before our modern globalized world. While they may have not spread as quickly, the lack of medical knowledge and efficient measures against them during those times, actually tended to be make the epidemics even more deadly as the following list of epidemics will show you. This list of epidemics ranks the deadliest epidemics in known human history by the estimated number of deaths these major global outbreaks caused.

Just a heads up: Each one of these epidemics have tragically claimed more than a million lives…..

The 10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

list of epidemics - 10 deadliest epidemics in history


1. Black Death Plague

black death - deadliest epidemics - list of epidemics
Depiction of a 14th Century miniature showing the people of Toumai (modern-day Belgium) burying victims of the Black Death plague


2. Spanish Flu

spanish flu - second on the deadliest list of epidemics
American soldiers in Camp Funston (Kansas) suffering from the so-called Spanish Flu in 1918


3. AIDS Pandemic

Image result for aids kills
An “AIDS Kills” graffiti in South Africa, one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic

4. Plague of Justinian

Plague of Justinian Plague of Justinian Attacking the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire
Depiction of victims of the Plague of Justinian in an unknown city at the Mediterranean Sea

5. Third Plague Pandemic

Chinese victims of the Third Plague Pandemic, photo taken in 1911

6. Cocoliztli Epidemic

Remains of victims of the Cocoliztli Epidemic found in Chalco Valley, Mexico

7. Aztec Smallpox Epidemic

Depiction of Spanish colonizers treating ill Aztec people during the Smallpox Epidemic


8. Antonine Plague

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Depiction of Rome during the Antonine Plague


9. Asian Flu

Infected children during the Asian Flu in an infirmary in Troy, New York, USA


10. Persian Plague


The 10 Deadliest Epidemics in History
(at a glance)

(as of March 2020)

The 10 Deadliest Epidemics in History:
1. BLACK DEATH PLAGUE
~ 140 million deaths
2. SPANISH FLU
~ 50 million deaths
3. AIDS PANDEMIC
~ 36 million deaths
4. PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN
~ 30 million deaths
5. THIRD PLAGUE PANDEMIC
~ 22 million deaths
6. COCOLIZTLI EPIDEMIC
~ 10 million deaths
7. AZTEC SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC
~ 7 million deaths
8. ANTONINE PLAGUE
~ 5 million deaths
9. ASIAN FLU
~ 3 million deaths
10. PERSIAN PLAGUE
~ 2 million deaths

List of the deadliest epidemics in known human history, sorted by the number of deaths that each of the outbreaks caused.

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