Although the concept of public health is a modern one and the scientific understanding of infectious diseases and their transmissibility is less than 200 years old, even ancient and medieval societies reacted in an organized manner to the great epidemics and the threat they posed to public order and their very existence. In spite of the fact that the sources of contagious diseases were often vaguely or wrongly understood, some of the measures that these older societies began to take (the quarantine, cordon sanitaire, isolating the sick, disinfecting objects) proved effective and have been continuously perfected along the centuries.
This study will attempt to discuss, using the historical method, some of the most important normative non-medical interventions in the history of epidemics that have survived to this day. Due to the legal nature of this study, we will not discuss the medical aspects of public health during pandemics, like vaccination, treatment, diagnosis or medical care. The focus of this study will be decisively European, although some passing references will be made to North America.