Infectious Diseases


Venice's Doge goes to the Salute on November 21 to Commemorate the End of the 1630 Plague. Painted by Francesco Guardi in 1766-70. Canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. 158KB

The Plagues in Istria and Northern Italy

The settlement of various new populations in the Istrian peninsula and in the Friulian plain was brought about by the continuous epidemics of the plague, that, together with the lack of water and with malaria, were making the territory very unhealthy. The Veneti could not stand the climate, which was tolerated by the Greek, Bosnian, Morlak and Montenegrin populations who were accustomed to live in arid and waterless zones.

Un grosso contributo all'alternarsi di svariate popolazioni nella penisola istriana e nella bassa friulana è stato apportato dalle continue epidemie di peste che, unite alla mancanza d'acqua e alla malaria, rendevano le zone molto insalubri. I Veneti non sopportavano il clima, tollerato invece da Greci, Bosniaci, Morlacchi e Montenegrini, popolazioni abituate a vivere in zone aride e prive d'acqua.

Isola San Niccolò: Editto dei provveditori nell'occasione della peste del 1600, da Carlo Yriarte, Trieste e Istria (Milano, 1875), p.  83.
Chronology of the Epidemics of Plague in Istria
Cronologia delle epidemie di peste in Istria
565 English Italiano
Episodes of plague in the region. Episodi di pestilenza nella regione.
591 The plague in Grado and Istria. Peste a Grado e in Istria. 
1348 Epidemics of plague in Istria: only one third of the population survives: Capodistria (1349), Rovigno (1348), Umago and Pedena (1361), Parenzo, Pola, Montona. Epidemie di peste in Istria: solo un terzo della popolazione si salva: Capodistria (1349), Rovigno (1348), Umago e Pedena (1361), Parenzo, Pola, Montona. 
1449 The plague in Trieste (Pope Pius II Piccolomini). La peste a Trieste (papa Pio II Piccolomini). 
1456 Deadly plague in Istria, Parenzo and Montona are particularly hit. Micidiale pestilenza in Istria; Parenzo e Montona sono particolurmente colpite. 
1469 A new epidemic in Trieste (700 dead) and in Istria. Nuova epidemia a Trieste (700 morti) e nell'Istria. 
1475  Cases of plague in Parenzo and Pisino. Casi di peste a Parenzo e a Pisino. 
1477 The plague torments the city of Trieste (700 dead). La peste affligge la città di Trieste (700 morti). 
1479 Another epidemic in Trieste that takes another 700 inhabitants. Altra epidemia a Trieste che perde ancora 700 abitanti. 
1486 The plague slaughters in Cittanova. La peste fa strage a Cittanova. 
1489 Parenzo and Trieste are newly hit by the plague. Parenzo e Trieste vengono nuovamente colpite dalla peste. 
1497 500 dead of plague in Trieste. 500 morti di peste a Trieste. 
1510 Epidemics of plague in Istria. Epidemia di peste in Istria. 
1512 The plague rages in Trieste for two months. La peste imperversa a Trieste per due mesi. 
1527 New epidemics in Istria. Nuova epidemia in Istria. 
1553-1558 Further epidemics in Trieste and Capodistria (2300 dead out of 9000 inhabitants), Pirano (two thirds of the population dies) Ulteriori epidemie a Trieste e a Capodistria (2300 morti su 9000 abitanti), Pirano (deceduti due terzi della popolazione). 
1599 Epidemic in Fiume. Epidemia a Fiume. 
1630-1631 A new outbreak [recrudescence] of the plague in Istria. The areas most hit are Capodistra, Parenzo, Pola and Cittanova. Venetian Istria has 40,000 survivors. Recrudescenza della peste in Istria. Le zone più colpite sono Capodistria, Parenzo, Pola e Cittanova. Nell'Istria veneta rimangono 40.000 superstiti.

The Italian Plague of 1629-31 (Great Plague of Milan)

The Italian Plague of 1629-31 was a series of outbreaks of Bubonic plague in northern Italy and in Istria. This epidemic, often referred to as Great Plague of Milan, claimed the lives of approximately 280,000 people, with the cities of Lombardy experiencing particularly high death rates. This episode is considered one of the last outbreaks of the centuries long pandemic of bubonic plague which began with the Black Death.

German and French troops carried the plague to the city of Mantua in 1629, as a result of troop movements associated with the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Venetian troops, infected with the disease, retreated into northern and central Italy, spreading the infection.

In October 1629, the plague reached Milan, Lombardy's major commercial center. Although the city initiated effective public health measures, including quarantine and limiting the access of German soldiers and trade goods, the plague smoldered in Milan. A major outbreak in March 1630 was due to relaxed health measures during the carnival season. This was followed by a second wave in the spring and summer of 1631. Overall, Milan suffered approximately 60,000 fatalities out of a total population of 130,000.

East of Lombardy, the Republic of Venice was infected in 1630-31. Casualties of 46,000 people, out of a population of 140,000 were recorded. Some historians believe the drastic loss of life, and its impact on commerce, ultimately resulted in the downfall of Venice as a major commercial and political power.

The Papal City of Bologna lost an estimated 15,000 citizens to plague, with neighboring smaller cities of Modena and Parma also being heavily affected. This outbreak of plague also spread north into Tyrol, an Alpine region of western Austria and northern Italy.

Later outbreaks of bubonic plague in Italy include the city of Florence in 1630-1633 and the areas surrounding Naples, Rome and Genoa in 1656-1657.


The 1630 plague in Milan is the backdrop for several chapters of Alessandro Manzoni's novel The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi). Although a work of fiction, Manzoni's description of the conditions and events in plague-ravaged Milan are completely historical and extensively documented from primary sources researched by the author.

Chapters 31 to 33 are occupied with an account of the plague and is largely based on Giuseppe Ripamonti's De peste quae fuit anno 1630 (published in 1640). Manzoni's full version of this, Storia della Colonna Infame (History of the pillar of infamy), was finished in 1829, but not published until it was included as an appendix to the final revised edition of 1842.


  • St. Sebastian - Cult of St. Sebastian in Istria. Ante Skrobonja, Amir Muzur. Department of the History of Medicine, Rijeka University School of Medicine, Rijeka, Croatia; and 1International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy. Online synopsis (full article is no longer available):  Croatian Medical Journal 3901/98 -
  • Text and chronology - Mady Fast and Fulvia Costantinides, ISBN 88-7021-483-4, 1990.
  • Translation of chronology - Marisa Ciceran

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This page is compliments of Marisa Ciceran, Piero Grimalda and Guido Villa

Created: Wednesday, October 27, 1999; Updated: Sunday, December 16, 2012
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