The Plague of Caere (c. 535 BCE): Airborne Botulism?

Adrian Harrison, Jean Macintosh Turfa


An unusual “plague” that occurred in late 6th-century BCE Italy, at Caere – modern day Cerveteri, located approximately 50-60 kilometres north-northwest of Rome, may have been a rare instance of airborne botulism following an atrocity on the Etruscan seashore, to judge from highly specific details furnished in the surviving account by the historian Herodotus. We have revisited the information available and compared the documented symptoms with likely causes. The hypothetical diagnosis we suggest is that of airborne botulism. In conclusion, an examination of the symptoms and possible modes of transmission in this unique event merits further consideration in the light of modern discoveries of terrorist activities and possible consequences of large-scale human disasters.


Botulism; Airborne infection; Etruscan; Plague

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18103/mra.v0i3.150


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