J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 64:542 doi:10.1136/jnnp.64.4.542
  • Historical note

A note on the origins of syphilis

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      Certain early writers suggested that syphilis infected ancient Chinese dynasties, whilst others claim priority for the afflicted populus of the early Romans, alleging that Augustus Caesar was afflicted by hereditary syphilis. But these suppositions are unconfirmed. The sailors with Columbus in 1493 were said to have brought the disease to Spain. It is certain that the Spanish fleet, when they fought for their ruler Alfonso II against the French forces of Charles VIII of France in 1494–5, heavily infected the peoples of Naples. The illness spread rapidly around Europe and mercenaries who in 1496 joined Perkin Warbeck in Scotland and with the support of James IV of Scotland invaded England, bore both arms and thegrandgore (Old French. grand gorre: grand great + gorre syphilis) as it was called.1 In 1497 the Minutes of the Town Council of Edinborough ( Phil. Trans. XLII. 421) recognised: “This contagious sickness callit the Grandgor.”

      The infective and contagious nature of the disease were recognised. The Burgh of Aberdeen issued a ruling that “all licht (loose) women decist fra thar vicis and syne of venerie.” A grandgore act was passed in September 1497. There was a …