The ancient city of Rome, its empire, and the spread of tuberculosis in Europe

Tuberculosis (Edinb). 2015 Jun;95 Suppl 1:S23-8. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2015 Feb 19.


The formation of the Roman Empire constituted an unprecedented joining of Mediterranean and European lands and peoples, centering on the capital of Rome. During the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire (ca. 200B.C.-ca. 200 A.D.) urbanization and population growth led to conditions favorable to the spread of tuberculosis throughout Italy and especially within Rome itself. Trade and military expansion would have acted as vehicles for the further extension of tuberculosis to the provinces via direct transmission from Italian-born Romans to the native populations. However, an alternative explanation may better explain the increase in the number of archeological cases of tuberculosis with the start of the Roman era. A literature review of Roman-era cases and their locations suggests that the development of an urban, Roman way of life resulted in significant increases in prevalence in regions where tuberculosis had previously been endemic only at a low level.

Keywords: Archeology/archaeology; Europe; History; History of medicine; Paleopathology/palaeopathology; Roman.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Europe
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Paleopathology
  • Roman World / history*
  • Tuberculosis / history*
  • Urban Health / history