Little Bits of History

October 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 26, 2017

1689: Fire sweeps through Skopje. Enea Silvio Piccolomini was an Italian nobleman born around 1640. His family had a history of serving with the Habsburg army and he was no exception, taking a position in Vienna. He led a campaign against the Ottomans in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Macedonia. Skopje is the present day capital of Macedonia. Vienna had been the subject of an Ottoman siege in 1683 and emperor Leopold I retaliated against the assailants with the resulting Great Turkish War. Piccolomini was attempting to conquer the Balkan states when he entered the city. There are conflicting stories as to what his motivation was.

Either the city was wracked by an outbreak of cholera and the disease was spreading rapidly or Piccolomini wanted to even the score for the siege against Vienna. He set the city on fire on this day. The city burned for two days, destroying all but a few stone-built structures. The fortress and some churches and mosques were made of stone and able to withstand, mostly intact. Before the fires were set, the city was home to about 60,000 people. After the devastation, only about 10,000 remained. The once thriving trading center was no longer able to provide that service and went into a steep decline, lasting for years.

Cholera is an infection of the small intestines which can lead to vomiting, muscle cramps, and most importantly severe diarrhea. The resulting dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can be treated with modern medicine. However, that was not the case in earlier times and the disease could lead to death. The disease is thought to have gotten its start in the Indian subcontinent and spread via trade routes. The disease spread overland and via ships. The sea routes were able to quarantine ships with the disease and help to slow the spread. Overland was not as easily contained. At the time of this incident cholera was a very deadly disease and Piccolomini succumbed to it soon after he razed the city.

There have been seven cholera pandemics in the past 200 years with the last originating in Indonesia in 1961. Today, with intravenous administration, electrolyte supplements, and antibiotics, the disease is not a threat in developed parts of the world. The same is not true in the developing countries and tens of millions have died of the disease since it became widespread in the late 19th century. In order to limit the affects of the disease, it is best to prevent the spread. This is done through proper sanitation practices including water treatment and proper treatment of sewage. Water purification systems help to remove the bacteria before ingestion, the best way to halt the disease.

Cholera is even more severe among populations who are immunologically naive. – Christy Turlington

When Peru had a cholera outbreak in 1991, losses from tourism and agricultural revenue were three times greater than the total money spent on sanitation in the previous decade. – Rose George

While eliminating smallpox and curtailing cholera added decades of life to vast populations, cures for the chronic diseases of old age cannot have the same effect on life expectancy. A cure for cancer would be miraculous and welcome, but it would lead to only a three-year increase in life expectancy at birth. – S. Jay Olshansky

The cholera had broken out at the post, and five or six men were dying daily. – Buffalo Bill



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