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In 1601–1603 Tallinn was afflicted by the severest famine and outbreaks of the plague in history.

The trouble began in 1601 when the disease spread among the peasants driven to Tallinn by the war and famine and infected also the citizens and the Swedish garrison soldiers. In 1602 there was another crop failure causing a famine, however, the Swedish government forbade the imports of grain to Estonia not to compromise the people of the mother state. According to the descriptions of the contemporaries, cannibalism occurred as starving animals and people ate each other during the unusually harsh winter periods. The highpoint of the mortality rate was reached in spring and summer of 1603.

In the summer of 1623 an epidemic reached Tallinn from Stockholm, however, its spread was limited to the deprived areas around the harbour.

In the summer of 1657 the first definitely diagnosed epidemic of bubonic plague broke out in Tallinn.

The plague reached the city through the harbour. The disease killed within two or three days. The shops and wine cellars were closed, citizens escaped to the country. All the cemeteries of the town were full, whereas the epidemic lasted until January. The situation in the city is described by one of the contemporaries as he recalls that „unfortunately there were no undertakers and I needed to rent a man with a sleigh and a horse in Tartu. He was helped by eight strong and young idlers drunk with beer and vodka…”.

The great plague and famine of 1697.