Plague of Justinian

Plague of Justinian

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Plague of Justinian'
Start a new discussion about 'Plague of Justinian'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic
Pandemic
A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that is spreading through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide. A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic...

 that afflicted the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire)
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, including its capital Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, in 541–542 AD
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. It was one of the greatest plagues in history. The most commonly accepted cause of the pandemic is bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

, which later became infamous for either causing or contributing to the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 of the 14th century. However, recent genetic studies of the bubonic plague germ, carried out from samples taken from skeletal remains in London by researchers from the University of Tübingen, suggest that the Justinian Plague (and others from antiquity) arose from either now-extinct strains of Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis is a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium. It is a facultative anaerobe that can infect humans and other animals....

genetically distinct from the strain that broke out in the 14th century pandemic, or from pathogens entirely unrelated to bubonic plague. The plagues' social and cultural impact during this period is comparable to that of the Black Death. In the views of 6th century Western historians, it was nearly worldwide in scope, striking central and south Asia, North Africa and Arabia, and Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland. Genetic studies point to China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 being the primary source of the contagion.

Until about 750, the plague returned with each generation throughout the Mediterranean basin. The wave of disease also had a major impact on the future course of European history
History of Europe
History of Europe describes the history of humans inhabiting the European continent since it was first populated in prehistoric times to present, with the first human settlement between 45,000 and 25,000 BC.-Overview:...

. Modern historians named this plague incident after the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

, who was in power at the time. He contracted the disease yet survived.

Origins and spread


The outbreak in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 was thought to have been carried to the city by grain boats arriving from Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. To feed its citizens, the city and outlying communities imported massive amounts of grain—mostly from Egypt. Grain ships may have been the original source of contagion, with the massive public granaries nurturing the rat and flea population. The epidemic was first reported by the Byzantine historian Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

 in 541 AD from the port of Pelusium
Pelusium
Pelusium was a city in the eastern extremes of Egypt's Nile Delta, 30 km to the southeast of the modern Port Said. Alternative names include Sena and Per-Amun , Pelousion , Sin , Seyân , and Tell el-Farama...

, near Suez in Egypt. There are two other first-hand reports of the plague's ravages, by the Syriac church historian John of Ephesus
John of Ephesus
John of Ephesus was a leader of the non-Chalcedonian Syriac-speaking Church in the sixth century, and one of the earliest and most important of historians who wrote in Syriac.-Life:...

 and the church historian Evagrius of Antioch
Evagrius of Antioch
Evagrius of Antioch was a claimant to the See of Antioch from 388 to 392. He succeeded Paulinus and had the support of the Eustathian party, and was a rival to Flavian during the so-called Meletian schism.- History :...

, who was a child in Antioch at the time. Evagrius was afflicted with the buboes associated with the disease, but survived; on the disease's four sweeping returns in his lifetime, he lost his wife and many of his children, a daughter and her child, his servants and country people.

Procopius recorded that, at its peak, the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople every day, but the accuracy of this figure is in question and the true number will probably never be known; what is known is that there was no room to bury the dead, and bodies were left stacked in the open. In his Secret History he records its devastation in the countryside and reports a ruthless response of the hard-pressed Justinian:
"when pestilence swept through the whole known world and notably the Roman Empire, wiping out most of the farming community and of necessity leaving a trail of desolation in its wake, Justinian showed no mercy towards the ruined freeholders. Even then, he did not refrain from demanding the annual tax, not only the amount at which he assessed each individual, but also the amount for which his deceased neighbors were liable."


As a result of plague in the countryside, the price of grain rose at Constantinople. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 had expended huge amounts of money for wars against the Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

 in the Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 region and the Ostrogoth
Ostrogoth
The Ostrogoths were a branch of the Goths , a Germanic tribe who developed a vast empire north of the Black Sea in the 3rd century AD and, in the late 5th century, under Theodoric the Great, established a Kingdom in Italy....

 kingdom of Italy. He had dedicated significant funds to the construction of great churches, like Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

. As the empire coped with these expenditures, the plague's effects on tax revenue were disastrous, although Justinian swiftly enacted new legislation to deal more efficiently with the glut of inheritance suits being brought as a result of victims dying intestate.

As the disease spread to port cities around the Mediterranean
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

, it gave the struggling Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 new opportunities in their conflict with Constantinople. The plague weakened the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 at a critical point, when Justinian's armies had nearly wholly retaken Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and the western Mediterranean coast; this evolving conquest could have credibly reformed the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and united it with the Eastern under a single emperor for the first time since the year 395. The plague may also have contributed to the success of the Arabs a few generations later in the Byzantine-Arab Wars
Byzantine-Arab Wars
The Byzantine–Arab Wars were a series of wars between the Arab Caliphates and the East Roman or Byzantine Empire between the 7th and 12th centuries AD. These started during the initial Muslim conquests under the expansionist Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs and continued in the form of an enduring...

.

The long-term effects on European and Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 history were enormous. Justinian's imperial gambit was ultimately unsuccessful. The troops, overextended, could not hold on. When the plague subsided, they retook Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, but could not move further north. The eastern empire held Italy for the remainder of Justinian's life, but the empire quickly lost all territory except the southern part after he died. Italy was ravaged by war and fragmented for centuries as the Lombard
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

 tribes invaded the north.

There has been some suggestion that the plague facilitated the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, since its aftermath coincided with the renewed Saxon offensives in the 550s, after a period during which the Saxons were contained. British sources from this period report plague, but Saxon ones are silent. The Romano-British may have been disproportionately affected because of trade contacts with Gaul and other factors, such as British settlement patterns being more dispersive than English ones, which "could have served to facilitate plague transmission by the rat". Nevertheless it is possible that there has been a tendency to exaggerate the differential effects. British sources are more likely to report natural disasters than Saxon ones in this era. In addition, "the evidence for artefact trade between the British and the English" implies significant interaction and "just minimal interaction would surely have involved a high risk of plague transmission."

Virulence and mortality rate


The actual number of deaths will always be uncertain. Modern scholars believe that the plague killed up to 5,000 people per day in Constantinople at the peak of the pandemic. It ultimately killed perhaps 40% of the city's inhabitants. The initial plague went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean New, frequent waves of the plague continued to strike throughout the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries AD, often more localized and less virulent. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 25 million people across the world.

After the last recurrence in 750, major epidemic diseases would not appear again in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 until the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 of the 14th century.

See also

  • Black Death
    Black Death
    The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

  • Bubonic Plague
    Bubonic plague
    Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

  • Extreme weather events of 535-536
  • Epidemics
  • Justinian I
    Justinian I
    Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

  • List of historical plagues
  • Medieval demography
    Medieval demography
    This article discusses human demography in Europe during the Middle Ages, including population trends and movements. Demographic changes helped to shape and define the Middle Ages...

  • Pestilence
  • Plague of Emmaus
    Plague of Emmaus
    The Plague of Emmaus , also known as the Plague of Amwas, was an outbreak of plague, possibly bubonic plague, that occurred in 639 AD in the town of Emmaus in Palestine. The town had been re-founded as Nicopolis in 221 AD by the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, and was given the title of 'city'...

  • Third Pandemic
    Third Pandemic
    Third Pandemic is the designation of a major Bubonic plague pandemic that began in the Yunnan province in China in 1855. This episode of bubonic plague spread to all inhabited continents, and ultimately killed more than 12 million people in India and China alone...