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In an alternate timeline, Ceasar lives, forges an alliance by marriage with Egypt and dominates the entire Mediterranean. He then performs a raft of economic and political reforms that basically skip the dark ages and land the Universal Republic in, socio-politically and even technologically, the early modern period. After 16 years he hands power to a newly elected leader from the plebeian classes whose name is lost to history in our timeline, setting of a chain of peaceful transitions that continue for centuries and even millenia with only minor interruptions.

Back in Caesar's time, the ambitious young Octavian becomes a naval captain and discovers the new world. This is both a product of and a reason for the rise of the the Universal Republic.

Point of my question - to what extent would Roman contact with the new world have the same effect that european contact did after colombus in terms of disease spread?

Would the population still have been decimated (in which case I imagine there would still have been a large settler population from the old world arrive)? Or would they have had a higher survival rate (leading to a situation where it was the exercise of military force and "soft power" that brought them under Roman control).

Thanks.

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    $\begingroup$ Caesar lead Rome to modern age in 16 years?! $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Feb 10 '18 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Smallpox and measles were the disease that killed most native Americans. The Romans suffered a terrible epidemy of smallpox in 165 (the Antonine Plague) which really was one of the first nail in the coffin of the Western Roman Empire. So yes, it wouldn't change much. $\endgroup$ – Alberto Yagos Feb 10 '18 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ "An alliance by marriage with Egypt:" this would have destroyed his political base in Rome. "A newly elected leader from the plebeian classes whose name is lost to history": that's not true, we absolutely know the name of Mark Antony. And patricians and plebeians were orders, not classes; the difference between a patrician and a plebeian was structural (what functions were available to them, to what assemblies they could take part), and not at all economic. There were poor patricians and poor plebeians, rich patricians and rich plebeians. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 10 '18 at 12:02
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Disease impact is the same

It is sometime hard to assess which diseases are present at which times, since we can't check 2000 year old microbes to see what diseases they are. But from various evidence, it appears that there were several infectious and deadly diseases that the Romans could have brought over circa 1 AD.

The most deadly disease the the Native Americans was smallpox, and there is credible evidence of smallpox as long ago as 1000 BC. Also probably present were malaria, influenza, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis. Another possibility is scarlet fever.

Though this list misses some other particularly virulent diseases like measles, cholera, and bubonic plague; there is still a good variety of infection and spreading mechanisms above the extant diseases. I do not think the disease impact on the Native Americans will be reduced much.

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  • $\begingroup$ And as regards New World diseases - I am certain the Romans would have brought back syphilis (the Great Pox) and spread it around even more efficiently than the 1500s Europeans did. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 10 '18 at 23:58
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Its a bit of a historical contention point, but Syphilis is believed by a lot of scholars to have been spread to Europeans from their contact with natives in the new world. It used to be a much much nastier more aggressive disease than today. historical records report peoples flesh rotting from their bodies and them dying from the disease in only a few months. There was basically no effective way to treat it and nobody really knew how it was spread back then (circa the 1450's.) So aside from the small-pox, cholera, and Measels the Romans are giving to the Indians, there is a very historically supported possibility that they would also be receiving an extremely painful, vile, and virulent form of syphilis that they have zero immunity to.

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