The Syphilis Enigma (Medieval Disease Documentary) | Timeline

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Shared August 7, 2017

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In 1495 a new disease hit Europe. It was deadly, devastating and attacked those who were promiscuous, well-heeled and well-travelled. But what was Syphilis and where had it come from? The traditional view has been that syphilis was part of "the Columbian exchange" – one of the things, along with tobacco and the potato, that the New World gave the Old. Arriving in Spain in the 1490s with Columbus and his crew, this destructive new plague spread quickly across Europe, leaving no country, no city, no royal household untouched. But what if this assumption is wrong? There is evidence of syphilis in skeletons dug from sites in France, Italy and England. Bones found in a medieval graveyard in Hull show signs of the ravages of syphilis. But if syphilis was present in Europe before Columbus went to America, why was the 1495 outbreak so deadly? And why did everyone see it as an entirely new plague?

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