The King Who Ordered a Quarantine to Flatten the Curve 4,000 Years Ago
Little was known about the mystery disease that was ravaging the ancient kingdom of Mari. But King Zimri-Lim knew the key to stopping it was social distancing — and no small amount of patience.
“My lord!” The call echoed down the long hallway, accompanied by the sounds of wheezing breaths and sandals slapping against the floor. Zimri-Lim, king of Mari, exhaled gustily. He had recently embarked on his royal tour of the kingdom. Just an hour earlier, he had marched through the city walls of Terqa with his entourage. He had barely even had a chance to offer sacrifices to Dagan, a patron god of the city. But as he took a deep sip from his goblet, he turned to see the messenger hurtling through the doorway. The man pressed his forehead to the ground, clutching in one hand two clay tablets, both crammed full of angular cuneiform text.
“Yes?” Zimri-Lim glanced down.
“Queen Shibtu sent me.” The man rocked back onto his heels and met King Zimri-Lim’s eyes. “My king, there is simmum in the palace.”
Zimri-Lim took a deep breath. Anyone who fell ill with simmum, a mysterious disease that could leave seeping sores upon the skin, had offen…