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Outbreaks of disease are typically seen as temporary, but the institutions organized to suppress them can last far longer. The Habsburg “sanitary border” with the Ottoman Empire is one example of such evolving institutions combining political, economic, & medical surveillance.
From 1770 until 1871, the Habsburg authorities maintained the Military Border with a quarantine corridor along its over 1000-mile-long border with the Ottoman Empire. The idea originated in Enlightenment-era medical science that Maria Theresa made into a more systematic policy.
At the time, the prevailing belief was that "the seat of the plague was the Near East, the Orient," which at that time coincided with Ottoman domains (from Nükhet Varlık's excellent studies on early modern plague & medicine).…
So one key part of plague prevention, along with reforming sanitary practices in Habsburg domains, was instituting permanent quarantine stations along the Ottoman border. In theory, all arriving travelers from the Ottoman Empire had to stay there 21 days (42 if plague was known).
Practices differed. High-ranking Ottoman dignitaries sometimes stayed shorter times. Many people crossed outside the stations; some were caught & quarantined & later released; others sent back. At first, punishments for "trespassers" were severe, but later things changed.
Most goods, even mail & money, had to spend time in quarantine (e.g., envelops pierced & fumigated, money dipped in vinegar, etc). But by 19th cent., many criticized this barrier to business. And medical understandings changed, no longer recommending permanent sanitary borders.
With mounting medical data, political critiques & economic calls for "free trade" etc, the entire Military Border institution and the sanitary/quarantine practices were reformed after the 1840s and eventually disbanded by 1871.…
The gradual dismantling of the Habsburg sanitary border is maybe the best known part of this history (Huber ⬇️). But only recently historians have taken seriously the other side of the border, e.g. Varlık (⬆️) et al exploring Ottoman & borderland issues.…
While researching my book on 19th-century nationalists in & around Bosnia, I came across many correspondence references to quarantined travel, shipments, books, letters, etc on the Ottoman-Habsburg border. Locals & travelers literally paid the cost of the quarantine measures.
Many borderland residents, far from being deterred by the sanitary border, incorporated it into their travel and other planning. "Come & make sure to leave enough time for the 21-day quarantine," an 18th-century Vatican official wrote in an invitation to Bosnian Franciscans.
I'm not trying to draw any parallel to contemporary events. The world of the covid19 crisis is profoundly different. I do think, however, that it's worth shifting our perspectives & asking questions about the long-term, local & unanticipated effects of quarantine-type measures.
Most attention in Otto-Habs history has been on the policy side: laws, diplomacy, medical expertise, etc. And yes, that's absolutely crucial. But people often pay the cost, intended or not, of such measures. And that helps give a bigger picture of how things play out in practice.
A few more references occurred to me after the thread:
-Bašeskija chronicle of 18th c. Sarajevo (mentions plagues & great analysis by Kerima Filan):…
- @pesalj's work is super-relevant, eg. Pančevo quarantine (maybe time for a thread Jovan? :)
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