The Italian Origins of “Quarantine”

File this under things you learn during a lockdown: 

The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian word quaranta – forty.

It is a term that was initially used to refer to ships that were kept at sea to ensure that there was no disease aboard. The policy of “quarantine” was first used in Venice in 1377, which was then a major trading center for Europe. After suffering from its first bout with plague in 1361, the city began to hold ships for forty days if they were coming from plagued ports in other parts of the world.

By not allowing the ships to dock for this extended period of time, the Venetians could be sure that there were no latent cases of plague on board. 

Forty days. Quaranta giorni in Italian. In 15th century Venetian, this would have been quarantena. Quarantine.

The first policy was actually known as trentino, or a thirty-day period of isolation. This was found to be insufficient, so the crew and passengers were soon held to the forty day rule.

It is strange to look so far back to find ourselves again – seeing this type of policy being repeated with cruise ships all over the world during the current pandemic. 

Last night, the Italian Prime Minister announced stricter lockdown measures – closing even more shops and factories, announcing that all cars would be stopped and that no outdoor exercise was allowed because people are not permitted to leave their own yards/gardens except for reasons of necessity.

This is day 13 of our quarantine. I can fully imagine (and at the same time don’t want to think about) it stretching to 40 days. 

Have you learned anything new while on lockdown?

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “The Italian Origins of “Quarantine”

  1. Mary A. says:

    Yes! We learned that there’s a reason why lasagne noodles made of rice were the last ones on the shelf! They MUST be precooked and don’t absorb much water!

  2. Valerie says:

    This is so timely. Thank you – I was just wondering to myself last night about the origin of the word!!! I’m sorry to hear about this latest restriction. Best wishes.

  3. Deborah Hale says:

    Thank you for these images and news flashes. Much appreciated. We were just in Rome in January; I was searching for Michelangelo’s works in Rome when I found your site. We have been curious since about developments in Italy and have a hard time finding these things on American tv/media. We will share with our Italy-loving friends and family. Thanks, and best wishes for enduring this strange period of time….

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