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The effects of epidemic

The innate unpredictability of war undermined Pericles' strategy, especially as an epidemic disease ravaged Athens' population1 for several years beginning in 430 B.C. The disease struck while the Athenians were jammed together in unsanitary conditions to escape Spartan attack behind their walls. The symptoms were gruesome: vomiting, convulsions, painful sores, uncontrollable diarrhea, and fever and thirst so extreme that sufferers threw themselves into cisterns vainly hoping to find relief in the cold water. The rate of mortality was so high it crippled Athenian ability to man the naval expeditions Pericles' wartime strategy demanded. Pericles himself died of the disease2 in 429 B.C. He apparently had not anticipated the damage to Athens which the loss of his firm leadership could mean. The epidemic also seriously hampered the war effort by destroying Athenian confidence in their relationship with the gods.” As far as the gods were concerned, it seemed not to matter whether one worshipped them or not because the good and the bad were dying indiscriminately,” was Thucydides' description of the population's attitude at the height of the epidemic.3

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