Where does the word quarantine come from?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

It is often assumed that the bubonic plague (black death) spread across Europe because the authorities did not understand the concept of contagion. In fact, it was widely understood that an infected person would pass their disease to others.

What was not known was the precise transmission mechanism or what you needed to do to avoid contagion. It was obvious, however, that the disease was manifesting itself in particular localities. The key to prevention was isolation. You needed to keeping infected persons out your town, city or community.

Who first used the term?

In the 1340s the Venetian authorities in charge of the port city of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) issued the first quarantine measures. This was aimed  at ensuring that infected visitors did not mix with the rest of the population. 

The edict established an isolation period of trentino giorni (30 days). This applied to anyone arriving from an area known to be affected by bubonic plague. This example was then followed by other key ports: including Marseille and Pisa.

Over the next fifty years this  isolation period was extended to quarantino giorni (40 days). Thus the term quarantine spread into other languages and cultures and is now universal today.