History of Anthrax

A visual timeline of the history of anthrax.

Throughout history, from biblical times to modern day, many sicknesses have been described with symptoms that resemble anthrax. Although we cannot know for sure whether these earliest reports of illness were, in fact, anthrax, many researchers believe that they were.

Naturally Occurring Anthrax

Moschophoros (Calf Bearer), a statue by Phaidimos

Moschophoros (Calf Bearer), a statue by Phaidimos

Anthrax is thought to have originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Many scholars think that in Moses’ time, during the 10 plagues of Egypt, anthrax may have caused what was known as the fifth plague, described as a sickness affecting horses, cattle, sheep, camels and oxen.

Ancient Greece and Rome were also well acquainted with anthrax, and this is illustrated in many of the ancient writings of the most famous scholars from those times. For example, many scholars think anthrax was depicted by Homer in The Iliad, written around 700 BC, and in poems by Virgil, who lived from 70-19 BC. Some even suggest that anthrax may have contributed to the fall of Rome.

Anthrax Used as a Biological Weapon

A portrait of Robert Koch.

Portrait of Robert Koch

The work of scientist Robert Koch in the 1800s led to the development of more modern microbiology experiments. This increase in more sophisticated experiments also created the knowledge of how to grow and produce large stocks of specific germs.


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