Emperor Joseph’s Solution to Coronavirus

April 6, 2020

As countries around the world frantically erect barriers against the spread of the novel coronavirus, it might be helpful to look at one of the most successful quarantine systems ever created. In 1710 Emperor Joseph I decided to block the chronic spread of diseases from the Balkans by creating a continuous “sanitary cordon” along the Habsburg monarchy’s southern frontier with the Ottoman Empire. His action failed to save him; he died of smallpox in April 1711 after he huddled with his prime minister, who was unaware that his daughter had just contracted the disease. No one then knew much about “social distancing.” Nonetheless, the empire’s sanitary cordon outlived him by a century and a half.The system Joseph created had several strengths. In an age when most international borders were defined only by overlapping feudal jurisdictions, the Habsburg-Ottoman frontier was a visibly delineated thousand-mile line of rivers, mountain peaks and border markers posted by a bilateral peace commission. It was already a military zone with extensive fortresses and army garrisons, which not only defended against Turkish raids but enforced customs and the processing of Christian refugees fleeing Ottoman rule.


The Wall Street Journal

Wess Mitchell
Dr. A. Wess Mitchell is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition.