Alternate History: No New World Pandemics

Shortly after the Old World made contact with the New, a series of epidemics decimated the indigenous populations of the Americas. Millions died; in some areas the mortality reached 90%. As a result, the Native American civilizations that the European settlers encountered were dramatically weaker than they had been in pre-Columbian times, and correspondingly less able to respond to the threat that the Europeans presented. Native Americans were completely overrun and marginalized in a way that didn’t happen in other parts of the world where European settlers encroached on indigenous peoples – South Africa, for example, or India.

Imagine a world where these epidemics never happened. How would Europe’s encounter with the Americas have played out differently? What would North and South America look like now?

I don’t know if one can imagine such a world. I mean, why were Europeans immune? Because they lived in closer contact with livestock. In order for Native Americans to receive the same benefits then that means they would have had livestock, etc. Native Americans having horses and such indigenously changes everything.

I think one could probably devise a scenario in which they already had these immunities- for example- pretend there had been continual, but limited and undocumented contact across the pacific between Old World Asians and New Worlders, at such a trickle over the past few thousand years that they obtained the same immunities as old-worlders.

Or imagine that the Norwegian settlements in Vinland were slightly more successful and served as a vector for European germs 500 years earlier. The epidemics still hit, but Native American societies had centuries to recover before the real invasion started in the 1500’s.

And I think that’s the answer–the Americas would look more like those places, and less like the Americas. Europeans would have taken over and governed the continents, and exploited their resources, but when colonialism faded in the Twentieth Century the Americas would have reverted to Amerindian control with a mostly Amerindian population. Indians would have been landless peasants or laborers, instead of dead, so there would be no need to import African slaves.

In some areas around the fringes–Canada, Patagonia, and the northern US–the climate was more salubrious for Europeans, and the lesser native population may have been muscled aside even without pandemics. These areas might look pretty much as they do.


To the Dept. of Redundancy Dept. Deciminated = reduced to 10%. :wink:

Actually not.

Decimated means to reduce to 90%. Every tenth man is killed.

:smack: In that case, reported to the department of contradictions!

I don’t think it would have made much difference in the end.

Look at the technology differences between them:

  • muskets vs. bow & arrows.
  • steel swords vs. knives.
  • ocean-going sailing ships vs. wood bark canoes.
  • sustained agriculture & animal husbandry vs. hunter/gatherer culture.

The European culture would still have won, just might have taken longer.

Had the northeastern Indians changed their tactics the advantage of the musket would have been questionable.

The idea that the smooth bore musket was better is also questionable. Europeans used it primarily because it did not require the amount of practice that a bow did.

However they still typically fired volleys from 50 yards and then charged as if they were pikes.

These ranges are quite practical for bow and arrows if they weren’t so human resource hungry.

Had the Indians not lost 90% to illness the losses on the settlers side would have been massive. They also quickly adopted firearms and other technology as allowed by the Europeans. By the time of the plain wars the Indians tended to have more advanced weapons than the army (repeating vs single shot).

Sustained agriculture did exist in the new world among several tribes and those new world crops are what fed the Europeans.

They cleared land of brush, planted saved seed and lived stationary lives.

Metal, germs and a racist religious belief that Indians were sub human and should be exterminated, supported by a wealthy remote kingdom were the main advantages the settlers had.

Yeah, even without the germs, there’s still guns and steel.

Actually, South Africa was initiallypretty much the same.

The Hottentot and Bushman regions of South Africa were easily overrun.
Although there was heavier going against the more numerous and advanced
Bantu further inland, resistance was overcome without large commitment
of regular armed forces.

More mysteriously, relatively advanced India was taken completely over
by the UK in about a century, and there were no significant threats to
UK overlordship before WW2. Perhaps it was a native inability to form
coalitions against the Europeans which doomed them. Willingness to join
the invaders may also have been significant.

As for the Western Hemisphere only the Aztec and the Inca had formed
states in the modern sense. I have not read they were weakened by epidemic
before the Spanish Conquest. Even if they were weakened, they did not
possess weapons metallurgy, gunpowder or horses, so their chances would
have been far worse than the East Indians.

With 90% more people the American Indian tribes would surely have put up
a much more difficult resistance. However, they were also hampered by a
general lack of unity, and if the more advanced East Indians were unable
to preserve their sovereignty I do not see how the American Indians could
have done better.

Without disease the new world contact would have been more like the contact with Asia. There is no way to get enough soldiers on the boats of the time to make a succesful invasion. The indians would have just blockaded any forts the settlers made and either starved them into submission or slaughtered them if they tried to leave.
The settlers would have been reduced to manning trading posts in the indian cities. Depending on the success of the indian governments the Europeans would probably not have gained a decisive edge in technology until the 19th century.

Then how were the Indian subcontinent, Ceylon, Burma, Indochina, the Phillippines, Malaya and Indonesia so completely subjugated?

Ceylon, the Phillipines, Malaya, and Indonesia were islands with small populations where the european advantage in navigation was decisive. Burma, IndoChina, and India were not subjugated until the 19th century when the precursors of the Industrial Revolution gave the europeans a decided advantage.

Malaya is not an island, and the only one of the others which is a single island
is Ceylon. I doubt population densities were any less than in the Americas, and
the PI and Indonesian archipelagos are much larger than any inhabitable ones in the
Americas except remote Vancouver.

The British East India company began operations in 1600, and British control of India
was complete by the mid-19th century, almost exactly on the same pace as European
subjugation of the Americas. And the population of advanced India was surely much
greater than that of its conquerors.

I agree with Freddy the Pig. The Americas would have been like Africa or India. You’d have had a European ruling class with a majority native population rather than having European settlers replacing the native population as the majority. And like in Africa and India, you’d have probably reached a point where the native population overthrew the European regime.

They were already subjugated, being ruled by various princes, rajahs, warlords, etc. The British mainly moved in and took over from those rulers, often even keeping them there as puppets. For the majority of the population, nothing much changed in their daily life.