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    Plague of Justinian

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This article concerns the worldwide pandemic starting in 541, with a focus on material available from European records and accounts. For detailed information on the most commonly accepted cause of the disease, see bubonic plague.

    The Plague of Justinian (541–542) is the first known pandemic on record, and it also marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. It is comparable to the Black Death of the 14th century. In the context of the 6th century, it was nearly world-wide in scope, striking central and south Asia, North Africa and Arabia, and Europe as far north as Denmark and west to Ireland. The plague would return with each generation throughout the Mediterranean basin until about 750. The plague would have a major impact on the future course of European history. Modern historians named it after Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, who was in power at the time.

    The outbreak may have originated in Ethiopia or Egypt and moved northward until it reached the large city of Constantinople. The city imported massive amounts of grain to feed its citizens—mostly from Egypt—and grain ships may have been the original source of contagion, with the massive public granaries nurturing the rat and flea population.

    The Byzantine historian Procopius records that, at its peak, the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople every day, although the accuracy of this figure is in question and the true number will probably never be known for sure; what is known is that there was no room to bury the dead, and bodies were being left stacked in the open. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I ensured that new legislation was swiftly enacted so as to deal more efficiently with the glut of inheritance suits being brought as a result of the plague deaths (Moorhead, J., 1994).

    Justinian had expended huge amounts of money for wars against the Vandals in the Carthage region and the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Italy. He had also dedicated significant funds to the construction of great churches like the Hagia Sophia. Coming in the middle of these great expenditures, the plague's effects on tax revenue were disastrous. As the plague spread to port cities around the Mediterranean, it gave the struggling Goths new opportunities in their conflict with Constantinople. The plague weakened the Byzantine Empire at the critical point when Justinian's armies had nearly wholly invested Italy and could have credibly reformed a Western Roman Empire. It also may have helped to set up the success of the Arabs a few generations later. The long term effects on European and Christian history were enormous. As it was, the gamble Justinian took backfired and the overextended troops could not hold on. Italy was decimated by war and fragmented for centuries as the Lombard tribes invaded the north.

    Ancient historians did not hold to modern standards of fact-checking or numerical accuracy. 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 percent 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, often more localized and less virulent. A maximum figure of 25 million dead for the Plague of Justinian is considered a fairly reasonable estimate. Some such as Josiah C. Russell (1958) has suggested a total European population loss of 50 to 60 percent between 541 and 700.

    After around 750, major epidemic diseases would not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century.

  • #2

    Medical History --- Plagues and Epidemics

    Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD

    Since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there have been three major bubonic plague epidemics, which afflicted large segments of the population in the continuous Eurasian landmass and North Africa. Death quickly followed the trade routes of the times. The death toll is almost incomprehensible. The Plague of Justinian (6th Century A.D.), the Black Death (14th Century A.D.), and the Bubonic Plague (1665-1666, which coincided with the Great Fire of London) caused an estimated 137 million dead in a world much more sparsely populated than it is today....

    ... At the peak of his reign, after accomplishing major political, judicial, and military successes, Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, suddenly faced an old, ferocious enemy of mankind: pestilence. The bubonic plague, which struck in A.D. 540, is justifiably the worst recorded pandemic to ever afflict humanity. Any hopes of reestablishing the Roman Empire were dashed. Records regarding the dimensions of the devastation and the untold suffering and death were carefully kept by Justinian's chief archivist and secretary, the celebrated court historian, Procopius.

    If one considers the dimensions of the devastation of the bubonic plague of the 6th Century in the midst of the Dark Ages --- the savage imperial wars waged against the barbarian hordes, the terrible famines, the ubiquity of death and destruction, and finally the unleashing of this cataclysmic epidemic --- it should not be difficult to imagine that the people at the time believed that they were being scorched and ravaged by the dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as described in the biblical book of Revelation 6:8, "And I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death."

    The Emperor Justinian, defeated by the cataclysm of the bubonic plague, saw with horror the disease demolishing his once invincible armies and killing his generals and soldiery alike faster than the wounds inflicted on the battlefield. Entire villages and towns were obliterated; the apocalyptic visitations were considered divine retribution from God as punishment for worldly sins. Demoralized and disheartened, he returned to his capital, Constantinople, only to find that there, too, the terrifying pestilence was relentlessly killing his people, rich and poor, regardless of kinship or station in life. The mortality in the city at this time was approaching 5000 deaths a day and would eventually reach an all-time high of 10,000 deaths daily. In despair and in need to fill the void, Justinian sought solitude, and the comfort and solace of religion.

    The learned physicians of Justinian's day, who at the time followed the precepts of Graeco-Roman medicine, were discredited because their nostrums proved useless at the time of the cataclysm. Instead, the people turned for consolation to monastic medicine and the teachings of Christianity. The Christian church did rush in and, as best it could, tried to fill in the medical void. The monks in the monasteries quickly became the spiritual as well as corporeal healers by tending both to the needs of the soul and the requirements of the body. They used prayer and only the rudiments of physical or herbal medicine to console and heal the sick.

    The humbling of the medical profession because of its impotence to control the plague of the 6th Century, essentially halted the advancement of medical knowledge for centuries. Medicine regressed, and disease in general was equated with vice and sin, rather than with filth, poor hygiene, and natural causes.

    Yet, medicine was not the only profession in abeyance to disease. Other ancient professions, such as law, engineering, and the natural sciences (not to mention the liberal arts of the Greeks and Romans), were largely erased from the collective memory of humanity. All areas of human endeavor were doomed to intellectual dormancy. Progress stopped. The turning wheels of Western culture and civilization had ground to a shrilling halt as humanity became fully immersed in the Dark Ages. New hordes of barbarians were marauding and ravaging the West, while the plague was humbling the East.(2)

    ... The epidemics of bubonic plague were veritably history's greatest scourges. In the case of the Plague of Justinian, the epidemic ravaged the populace for five decades between A.D. 540 and 590 and, although precise figures are not possible to ascertain, it may have caused the death of one-third of the population....


    • #3
      Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

      § 8. The Great Pestilence (A.D. 542‑543)

      Justinian had been fourteen years on the throne when the Empire was visited by one of those immense but rare calamities in the presence of which human beings could only succumb helpless and resourceless until the science of the nineteenth century began to probe the causes and supply the means of preventing and checking them. The devastating plague, which began its course in the summer of A.D. 542 and seems to have invaded and ransacked nearly every corner of the Empire, was, if not more malignant, far more destructive, through the vast range of its ravages, than the pestilences which visited ancient Athens in the days of Pericles and London in the reign of Charles II; and perhaps even than the plague which travelled from the East to Rome in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. It probably caused as large a mortality in the Empire as the Black Death of the fourteenth century in the same countries.

      The infection first attacked Pelusium, on the borders of Egypt, with deadly effect, and spread thence to Alexandria and throughout Egypt, and northward to Palestine and Syria. In the following year it reached Constantinople, in the middle of spring, and spread over Asia Minor and through Mesopotamia into the kingdom of Persia. Travelling by sea, whether from Africa or across the Adriatic, it invaded Italy and Sicily.

      It was observed that the infection always started from the coast and went up to the interior, and that those who survived it had become immune. The historian Procopius, who witnessed its course at Constantinople, as Thucydides had studied the plague at Athens, has detailed the nature and effects of the bubonic disease, as it might be called, for the most striking feature was a swelling in the groin or in the armpit, sometimes behind the ear or on the thighs. Hallucinations occasionally preceded the attack. The victims were seized by a sudden fever, which did not affect the colour of the skin nor make it as hot as might be expected.

      The fever was of such a languid sort from its commencement and up till evening that neither to the sick themselves nor a physician who touched them would it afford any suspicion of danger. . . . But on the same day in some cases, in others on the following day, and in the rest not many days later a bubonic swelling developed. . . . Up to this point everything went in about the same way with all who had taken the disease. But from then on very marked differences developed. . . . There ensued with some a deep coma, with others a violent delirium, and in either case they suffered the characteristic symptoms of the disease. For those who were under the spell of the coma forgot all those who were familiar to them and seemed to be sleeping constantly. And if any one cared for them, they would eat without waking, but some also were neglected and these would die directly through lack of sustenance. But those who were seized with delirium suffered from insomnia and were victims of a distorted imagination; for you suspected that men were coming upon them to destroy them, and they would become excited and rush off in flight, crying out at the top of their voices. And those who were attending them were in a state of constant exhaustion and had a most difficult time. . . . Neither the physicians nor other persons were found to contract this malady through contact with the sick or with the dead, for many who were constantly engaged either in burying or in attending those in no way connected with them held out in the performance of this service beyond all expectation. . . . [The patient] had great difficulty in the matter of eating, for they could not easily take food. And many perished through lack of any man to care for them, for they were either overcome with hunger, or threw themselves from a height.

      And in those cases where neither coma nor delirium came on, the bubonic swelling became mortified and the sufferer, no longer able to endure the pain, died. And we would suppose that in all cases the same thing would have been true, but since they were not at all in their senses, someone were quite unable to feel the pain; for owing to the troubled condition of their minds they lost all sense of feeling.

      Now some of the physicians who were at a loss because the symptoms were not understood, supposing that the disease centred in the bubonic swellings, decided to investigate the bodies of the dead. And upon opening some of the swellings they found a strange sort of carbuncle that had grown inside them.

      Death came in some cases immediately, in others after many days; and with some the body broke out with black pustules about as large as a lentil, and these did not survive even one day, but all succumbed immediately. With many also a vomiting of blood ensued without visible cause and straightway brought death. Moreover I am able to declare this, that the most illustrious physicians predicted that many would die, who unexpectedly escaped entirely from suffering shortly afterwards, and that they declared that many would be saved who were destined to be carried off almost immediately. . . . While some were helped by bathing others were harmed in no less degree. And of those who received no care many died, be others, contrary to reason, were saved. And again, methods of treatment showed different results with different patients. . . . And in the case of women who were pregnant death could be certainly foreseen if they were taken with the disease. For some died through miscarriage, but others perished immediately at the time of birth with the infants they bore. However they say that three women survived though their children perished, and that one woman died at the very time of child-birth but that the child was born and survived.

      Now in those cases where the swelling rose to an unusual size and a discharge of pus had set in, it came about that they escaped from the disease and survived, for clearly the acute condition of the carbuncle had found relief in this direction, and this proved to be in general an indication of returning health. . . . And with some of them it came about that the thigh was withered, in which case, though the swelling was there, it did not develop the least suppuration. With others who survived the tongue did not remain unaffected, and they lived on either lisping or speaking incoherently and with difficulty.

      This description shows that the disease closely resembled in character the terrible oriental plague which devastated Europe and parts of Asia in the fourteenth century. In the case of the Black Death too the chief symptom was the pestboils, but the malady was generally accompanied by inflammation of the lungs and the spitting of blood, which Procopius does not mention.

      In Constantinople the visitation lasted for four months altogether, and during three of these the mortality was enormous. At first the deaths were only a little above the usual number, but as the infection spread 5000 died daily, and when it was at its worst 10,000 or upward. This figures are too vague to enable us to conjecture how many of the population were swept away; but we may feel sceptical when another writer who witnessed the plague assures us that the number of those who died in the streets and public places exceeded 300,000. If we could trust the recorded statistics of the mortality in some of the large cities which were stricken by the Black Death — in London, for instance, 100,000, in Venice 100,000, in Avignon 60,000 — then, considering the much larger population of Constantinople, we might regard 300,000 as not an excessive figure for the total destruction. For the general mortality throughout the Empire we have no data for conjecture; but it is interesting to note that a physician who made a careful study of all the accounts of the Black Death came to the conclusion that, without exaggeration, Europe (including Russia) lost twenty-five millions of her inhabitants their own that calamity.

      At first, relatives and domestics attended to the burial of the dead, but as the violence of the plague increased this duty was neglected, and corpses lay forlorn narrow in the streets, but even in the houses of notable men whose servants were sick or dead. Aware of this, joint placed considerable sums at the disposal of Theodore, one of his private secretaries, to take measures for the disposal of the dead. Huge pits were dug at Sycae, on the other side of the Golden Horn, in which the bodies were laid in rows and tramped down tightly; but the men who were engaged on this work, unable to keep up with the number of the dying, mounted the towers of the wall of the suburb, tore off their roofs, and threw the bodies in. Virtually all the towers were filled with corpses, and as a result "an evil stench pervaded the city and distressed the inhabitants still more, and especially whenever the wind blew fresh from that quarter." It is particularly noted that members of the Blue and Green parties laid aside their mutual enmity and co-operated in the labour of burying the dead.

      During these months all work ceased; the artisans abandoned their trades. "Indeed in a city which was simply abounding in all good things starvation almost absolute was running riot. Certainly it seemed a difficult and very notable thing to have a sufficiency of bread or of anything else." All court functions were discontinued, and no one was to be seen in official dress, especially when the Emperor fell ill. For he, too, was stricken by the plague, though the attack did not prove fatal.

      Our historian observed the moral effects of the visitation. Men whose lives had been base and dissolute changed their habits and punctiliously practised the duties of religion, not from any real change of heart, but from terror and because they supposed they were to die immediately. But their conversion to respectability was only transient. When the pestilence abated and they thought themselves safe they recurred to their old evil ways of life. It may be confidently asserted, adds the cynical writer, that the disease selected precisely the worst men and let them go free.

      Fifteen years later there was a second outbreak of the plague in Constantinople (spring A.D. 558), but evidently much less virulent and destructive. It was noticed in the case of this visitation that females suffered less than males.*.html


      • #4
        Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

        Source: Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2002.

        An Empire's Epidemic

        Scientists Use DNA in Search for Answers to 6th Century Plague

        By THOMAS H. MAUGH II, Times Staff Writer

        By the middle of the 6th century, the Emperor Justinian had spread his Byzantine Empire around the rim of the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, laying the groundwork for what he hoped would be a long-lived dynasty.

        His dreams were shattered when disease-bearing mice from lower Egypt reached the harbor town of Pelusium in AD 540. From there, the devastating disease spread to Alexandria and, by ship, to Constantinople, Justinian's capital, before surging throughout his empire.

        By the time Justinian's plague had run its course in AD 590, it had killed as many as 100 million people -- half the population of Europe -- brought trade to a near halt, destroyed an empire and, perhaps, brought on the Dark Ages. Some historians think that the carnage may also have sounded the death knell for slavery as the high demand for labor freed serfs from their chains. Justinian's plague was a "major cataclysm," says historian Lester K. Little, director of the American Academy in Rome, "but the amount of research that has been done by historians is really minimal."

        Little is hoping to do something about that. In December, he brought the world's plague experts together in Rome to lay the groundwork for an ambitious research program on the pandemic. A book resulting from the meeting will be published this year.

        Modern techniques for studying DNA have begun answering long-standing questions about the evolution of the plague bacillus, how it infects humans and what can be done to counteract it.

        While a 6th century plague might seem an esoteric subject, Little and others think that it has great relevance in a modern world that is continually threatened by emerging diseases. A second pandemic of plague struck Europe in the Middle Ages -- the so-called Black Death -- killing 25 million people and once more producing widespread social disruption.

        A third pandemic began in China in the late 19th century and spread to North America, where a large reservoir of the disease remains active in animals throughout the Southwest.

        An outbreak occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25, but was contained.

        Plague could become a tool of bioterrorists. Russian experts have long argued that plague is a much more frightening prospect than anthrax. As part of their germ war efforts during the Cold War, Soviet scientists developed strains of plague resistant to antibiotics used to cure infections. Unleashing such organisms could potentially have a devastating effect on modern society.

        Understanding Justinian's plague could also lead to insights into other types of disasters, man-made and natural, adds UCLA historian Michael Morony.

        "People were dying faster than they could be buried," he said. "I find myself wondering how society survived. That's a relevant question to try to understand."

        Plague is caused by a bacillus called Yersinia pestis, identified in 1894 by the Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. The bacterium once killed more than half the people it infected but is now routinely controlled by such antibiotics as streptomycin, gentamicin or tetracycline.

        Plague Still Kills

        2,000 People a Year

        About 2,000 deaths from plague are still reported worldwide every year, a handful of them in the United States. Naturally occurring strains resistant to antibiotics have been observed recently, however, and scientists fear that their spread could lead to large outbreaks.

        Y. pestis is carried by rats and other animals. It can be transmitted to humans by direct exposure to an infected animal. Most often, however, it is carried by fleas that bite the infected animals, then bite humans.

        People bitten by such fleas develop agonizingly painful, egg-sized swellings of the lymph nodes -- called buboes -- in the neck, armpit and groin. Hence the name bubonic plague.

        Some authorities recognize two other forms of plague, one called pulmonary or pneumonic, in which the lungs are affected, and one called septicemic, in which the organism invades the bloodstream, but all are the same disease, Little said.

        Because of its possible use in bioterrorism, researchers have been actively studying the plague organism. In October, a British team from the Sanger Center in Cambridge reported that they had decoded the complete DNA sequence of Y. pestis, a feat that could help to control outbreaks.

        "The genome sequence we have produced contains every possible drug or vaccine target for the organism," said Dr. Julian Parkhill, the team's leader.

        Genetics shows that the closest relative of Y. pestis is a gut bacterium called Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which is transmitted through food and water and which causes diarrhea, gastroenteritis and other intestinal problems, but is rarely fatal. Y. pseudotuberculosis may be the immediate ancestor of Y. pestis, but it is not transmitted by fleas. Last month, researchers apparently discovered why.

        Bacteriologist B. Joseph Hinnebusch and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health's Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana reported that the key is a gene called PDL, which is carried by the plague bacterium, but not by the one that causes diarrhea.

        Although they do not yet know how it works, PDL allows Y. pestis to survive in the gut of the rat flea. Artificially produced strains of the bacterium without the gene are destroyed in the flea's gut and thus cannot be transmitted to humans.

        Hinnebusch and his colleagues believe the bacterium acquired the gene from other soil bacteria by a process called horizontal transfer, somewhat akin to a form of bacterial sex. The transfer probably took place 1,500 to 20,000 years ago, they said, setting the stage for full-scale epidemics of plague. "Our research illustrates how a single genetic change can profoundly affect the evolution of disease," Hinnebusch said.

        Some scholars have argued that Y. pestis was not the cause of the Black Death and, by implication, of Justinian's plague as well. Jean Durliat, a French expert on the Byzantine Empire, argued in the 1980s that contemporary literary accounts of Justinian's plague were overblown and exaggerated, and not supported by archeological evidence.

        Last year, British historians Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan published "Biology of Plagues," arguing that death spread through Europe much too rapidly in the 14th century to be caused by Y. pestis.

        They believe that the Black Death must have spread through human-to-human contact and argue that it might have been caused by the Ebola virus or something similar.

        Anthropologist James Wood of Pennsylvania State University made a similar argument last month at a meeting in Buffalo, N.Y.

        "This disease appears to spread too rapidly among humans to be something that must first be established in wild rodent populations, like bubonic plague," Wood said. "An analysis of monthly mortality rates [among priests] during the epidemic shows a 45-fold greater risk of death than during normal times, far higher than usually associated with bubonic plague."

        But molecular biology may be on the brink of answering questions that history cannot. One unique feature of the plague virus is that it accumulates inside the teeth of its victims, where its DNA can be protected for centuries, or perhaps even longer.

        Molecular biologists Michel Drancourt and Olivier Dutour of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, reported in 1998 that they had identified Y. pestis DNA in human remains dating from 1590 and 1722. Two years later, they reported a similar finding in remains dating from 1348.

        That evidence is "pretty impressive," said Little, and indicates that Y. pestis at the very least played a role in the Black Death.

        The Marseilles team is continuing to study other remains from the period to document how widespread the infections were. Meanwhile, archeologists are searching for plague cemeteries from the time of Justinian to perform similar studies.

        Mass Graves Found

        In Gaza to Be Studied

        Archeologist Michael McCormick of Harvard University has already identified eight mass graves in the Gaza Strip, Turkey and Italy where he expects to find human remains dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries. Remains have yet to be exhumed, however.

        Some researchers speculate that a particularly virulent form of Y. pestis was responsible for Justinian's plague or the Black Death, just as an unusually pathogenic form of the influenza virus caused the worldwide flu pandemic in the early 20th century. Analysis of human remains could yield clues.

        Theoretically, McCormick said, if DNA is found in the remains, it could be possible to grow the organisms in the laboratory and see if it is, in fact, more virulent.

        One of the "major social issues" arising from the great mortality of the plague "is that it tends to raise the value of labor," Little said. "There are not enough workers around anymore. You can't find servants and, when you do find someone, they tend to charge outrageous amounts."

        Little and others believe that this increased premium on labor was the final blow to slavery during the Justinian plague and that it similarly brought an end to serfdom during the Black Death.

        Historians obviously still have a lot to learn about these pandemics, but valuable first steps have been taken, Little said. With the increasing assistance of molecular biologists, he added, the final pieces of the puzzle may now fall into place.


        • #5
          Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic

          The Pandemic of 541–750

          Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic

          Lester K. Little

          In the summer of 541 AD a deadly infectious disease broke out in the Egyptian port city of Pelusium, located on the eastern edge of the Nile delta. It quickly spread eastward along the coast to Gaza and westward to Alexandria. By the following spring it had found its way to Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire. Syria, Anatolia, Greece, Italy, Gaul, Iberia, and North Africa: none of the lands bordering the Mediterranean escaped it. Here and there, it followed river valleys or overland routes and thus penetrated far into the interior, reaching, for example, as far east as Persia or as far north, after another sea-crossing, as the British Isles.

          The disease remained virulent in these lands for slighty more than two centuries, although it never settled anywhere for long. Instead, it came and went, and as is frequently the case with unwelcome visitors, its appearances were unannounced. Overall, there was not a decade in the course of those two centuries when it was not inflicting death somewhere in the Mediterranean region. In those places where it appeared several times, the intervals between recurrences ranged from about six to twenty years. And then, in the middle of the eighth century, it vanished with as little ceremony as when it first arrived.

          Thus did bubonic plague make its first appearance on the world historical scene. Diagnosis of historical illnesses on the basis of descriptions in ancient texts can rarely be made with compelling certainty because all infectious diseases involve fever and the other symptoms tend not to be exclusive to particular diseases. Plague, however, is a major exception because of the unmistakable appearance of buboes on most of its victims, those painful swellings of the lymph nodes that appear in the groin, in the armpit, or on the neck just below the ear. Taken together, the dozens of epidemics of this disease that broke out throughout the Mediterranean basin and its hinterlands between the mid-sixth and mid-eighth centuries constitute the first historically documented pandemic of plague, the first of three.


          What came before were lethal epidemics to be sure, but of diseases that still lack generally agreed-upon diagnoses. The most notable of these were the ‘plague’ at Athens in 430 BC described by Thucydides, in which Pericles died, the Antonine Plague in Galen’s time that stretched over much of the Roman Empire between 169 and 194, in which Marcus Aurelius died, and that of a century later, between 250 and 270, in which another emperor, Claudius Gothicus, died. Smallpox, typhus, and measles were most likely the diseases involved in those epidemics. Meanwhile Greek and Roman medical writers, who commented on and anthologized the works of Hippocrates, apparently knew of plague, if only as an endemic disease. [B]In the works compiled by such writers as Aretaeus of Cappadocia (mid-first century AD), Rufus of Ephesus (late first century AD), and Oribasius (late fourth century AD), plague appears not as a disease experienced or observed, but as one heard about from the far side of the Mediterranean. They made frequent reference to cases in Egypt and Libya, less often in Syria, in which the sick and deceased had malignant buboes. Thus the presence of endemic plague in the ancient Near East centuries before the outbreak at Pelusium appears reasonably well attested. Then, when the disease did appear in full view of literate observers beginning in 541, some of these individuals gave convincingly precise descriptions of plague symptoms. And as this debut took place during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, Byzantinists especially refer to this outbreak as the “Plague of Justinian” or the “Justinianic Plague.”

          The second pandemic, well known to all readers of history as the “Black Death,” erupted in Central Asia in the 1330s, reached the Crimea by 1346, and then moved on the following year to Constantinople and thence to ports all around the Mediterranean. It spread more widely and moved further inland than it had eight hundred years before, for example, by reaching Scandinavia and also far into the Arabian peninsula for the first time. For more than a century and a half it continued to recur with notable regularity, but then became sporadic, though still deadly, vanishing from Europe in 1772, but lingering in the Near East until the 1830s.

          The third pandemic broke out in China in the second half of the nineteenth century. It reached massive proportions and gained world attention in 1894 when it struck Canton and Hong Kong. While Europe, which so suffered from the Black Death, has barely ever been touched by this third, nameless pandemic, the disease has found its way to much of the rest of the world, excluding the polar regions but including the United States. Where sailing ships of the Age of Exploration, which fell within the time period of the second pandemic, failed to export plague to the New World, the speedier steamship succeeded. Plague crossed the Pacific to Honolulu and from there to San Francisco in 1899, and a gigantic disease pool has since developed among the wild rodent and small ground-mammal populations of the western, especially the southwestern, states. Modern medicine has for the most part successfully isolated the occasional outbreaks of plague, and yet the disease shows no signs of going away.

          Besides reaching the Western Hemisphere, the third pandemic gave occasion for the identification of the pathogen. In the years preceding its outbreak, the new science of microbiology had taken hold, most famously in the rival French and German schools of Louis Pasteur in Paris and of Robert Koch in Berlin. When word of the outbreak of plague in 1894 at Hong Kong spread, Shibasaburo Kitasato of Tokyo, a student of Koch, rushed to the scene, as did Alexandre Yersin, a Pasteur student who was then working in French Indochina. An intensely competitive race ensued. Although Kitasato was the first to claim victory, the scientific community eventually awarded that claim to Yersin. The bacillus he isolated and described was duly named Yersinia pestis. Between 1894 and 1897 Yersin developed the first anti-plague serum for vaccinations, and by 1898 his colleague Paul-Louis Simond had unraveled the nexus of bacilli, fleas, and rats while doing research in Bombay. He found the chief vector of Yersinia to be a flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, whose preferred hosts in turn were rats, either Rattus rattus, the common stay-at-home black rat, or Rattus norvegicus, the sea-going brown wharf rat. Contrary to the long-held assumption that plague is a contagious disease, it is most commonly by the bite of a rat flea that the highly toxic substance gets injected into a human being and drains into a lymph node. Multiplying rapidly, it there forms the painful swelling known as a bubo. Once fatal to slightly more than half the people who contracted it, plague in recent decades has become routinely curable, if timely diagnosis and medical supplies permit, preferably by streptomycin, gentamycin, cloramphenicol, or tetracycline.

          Can we be certain that the same disease was at play in all three pandemics? Or, to be more precise, can we be certain that Y. pestis was the causal agent of either or both of the first two, pre-microbiology pandemics? This question rarely came up at all during most of the twentieth century. Medical experts in the years around 1900, starting with Yersin himself in the very paper of 1894 in which he announced his discovery, declared that both the Black Death and the earlier pandemic were caused by the same plague bacillus as the one they could see under their microscopes. To make such historical assertions, they had not scrambled to become historians overnight. Instead, they were merely drawing on their secondary-school learning in ancient and medieval history, which had included some of the major descriptions of those earlier pandemics. Thus the authority they gained from using the new science to identify the pathogen during the third pandemic carried over sufficiently to validate as well their readings of historical texts concerning the first two. Only in recent years have some historians criticized those judgments and their unquestioning perpetuation by other historians throughout the intervening century. Yet also very recently, a completely new approach to these issues has been developing. It is the work not of historians but, as in 1894, of microbiologists, the heirs of Yersin and Kitasato, who now, redefined as molecular biologists, are extending their use of DNA analysis from the present and immediate past to the very remote past. Paleopathology is becoming an increasingly viable tool of research, a point to which we shall return.

          THE EVIDENCE

          Notwithstanding these promising laboratory developments, written sources remain the preeminent tool of historians. The principal sources available for studying the Plague of Justinian are written in four languages: Syriac, Arabic, Greek, and Latin. The lengthiest account in any language, found in the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus, was written in Syriac. By an astonishing set of circumstances, he was completing a mission from Constantinople to Alexandria at the time the plague arrived in Egypt. Upon his return trip overland through Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, he found himself keeping abreast of the parallel movement of the disease as he traveled. In Palestine he saw entire town populations wiped out. “During the tumult and intensity of the pestilence,” he wrote, “we journeyed from Syria to the capital. Day after day we, too, used to knock at the door of the grave along with everyone else. We used to think that if there would be evening, death would come upon us suddenly in the night. Although the next morning would come, we used to face the grave during the whole day as we looked at the devastated and moaning villages in these regions, and at corpses lying on the ground with no one to gather them.” According to John, some people carried corpses all day, while others spent the day digging graves. Houses and farms were abandoned. Animals forgot their domestication. “Crops of wheat in fertile fields located in all the regions through which we passed from Syria up through Thrace, were white and standing but there was no one to reap them and store the wheat. Vineyards, whose picking season came and went, shed their leaves, since winter was severe, but kept their fruits hanging on their vines, and there was no one to pick them or press them.In his Lives of the Eastern Saints, John reported on one monastery that buried eighty-four of its members who had died of the plague. Other Syriac writings contain details of later outbreaks in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, including the Chronicle of Zuqnīn, whose monastic author, in recounting the epidemic of 743–745, specified that the victims had swellings in the groin, the armpit, or the neck.

          The situation with Arabic sources is altogether different. To begin with, written Arabic was still very rare in the sixth century. Moreover, the Arabian Peninsula itself seems to have escaped this plague pandemic. But already in the sixth year of the Islamic era, corresponding to 627– 628 AD, Arabic sources do contain a number of references to an outbreak of plague that devastated Sasanian Iraq; they call it the Plague of Sharawaygh for the Sasanian ruler it killed along with many inhabitants of Ctesiphon, the capital city. Then, after the death of Mohammed in 632 and the consolidation of power within Arabia under the first caliph, the Arabs went on the offensive in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. With the conquest of Syria virtually complete by 638, the Arabs were beset for the first time with a major epidemic, this one named the Plague of Anwas (for a village where they first encountered it).

          These earliest Arabic testimonies concerning plague have not come to us directly from the seventh century. Later scholars, especially some located in Basra, refashioned them and incorporated them into larger, more systematic works, including plague chronologies and consolation treatises. The first of these included al-Asmai (died 862), a lexicographer who compiled a list of plague epidemics with their dates and their assigned names. Another was the historian al-Madaini (died 840), who worked independently of al-Asmai, although probably with common sources, and who provided considerable detail on the effects of the epidemics that struck Basra. And to mention just one more Basran scholar, al-Mubarrad (died in 899 or 900) wrote one of the earliest books of consolation, a type of work that told of the terrible encounters of Muslims with past epidemics, whether victims or survivors, to bolster the courage of present-day and future believers in confronting this dreadful scourge. But in the case of this writer and his book, we encounter another level of the complexity in untangling the Arabic sources dealing with the first plague pandemic, for this work is mainly known from those portions of it incorporated into the plague treatises that began to appear in the 1360s in the wake of the Black Death. Thus the earliest extant writings on the plague in Arabic, whether lists of epidemics or treatises, date from the ninth and later centuries, while of course referring back to works – now lost – of the seventh and eighth centuries.

          The principal Greek source is the work of the historian Procopius of Caesarea, who was present at the court of Justinian in Constantinople in the early 540s. In his Persian War, Procopius says with reference to this time, there was a pestilence by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated...It started among the Egyptians. Then it moved to Palestine and from there spread over the whole world...In the second year it reached Byzantium in the middle of the spring.” He says that for the majority of those stricken the onset of fever was the first sign, and then there developed after a few days a bubonic swelling, either in the groin, in the armpit, or beside the ears. He reports that the mortality rose alarmingly, eventually reaching more than ten thousand each day. Procopius also mentions that the emperor himself was taken ill, but only in his Secret History did he go on to reveal that there were rumors at court that Justinian had died and that speculation about the succession flourished. Justinian, however, recovered and reigned for two more decades.

          The lawyer Agathias undertook to continue the history of Procopius. He says that after 544 when plague ceased in Constantinople, it had never really stopped but simply moved on from place to place, until it returned to the city almost as though it had been cheated on the first occasion into a needlessly hasty departure. This was the spring of 558, when “a second outbreak of plague swept the capital, destroying a vast number of people.” The form the epidemic took was not unlike that of the earlier outbreak. A swelling in the glands in the groin was accompanied by a high fever that raged night and day with unabated intensity and never left its victim until the moment of death.

          Another testimony in Greek came from the Antiochene lawyer Evagrius “Scholasticus.” Plague broke out in 594 while he was at work on his Ecclesiastical History, and in a passage of that book he notes that this was the fourth episode of the plague in his experience, going back to 542 when the disease first arrived in Antioch and he himself, then six years old, suffered from its fevers and swellings. In each of the later outbreaks he lost servants and family members, including most recently a daughter and a grandson. We need emphasize that all three of these leading Greek sources, Procopius, Agathias, and Evagrius, were knowledgeable about earlier epidemics, yet clearly stressed the dreadful newness of the epidemics that started in 542.

          Of the Latin writers on this pandemic, Gregory of Tours (539–594) had the most to say. A native of Clermont and descendant of a Gallo-Roman family proud of its senatorial rank, he served as bishop of Tours from 573 to 594. In his History of the Franks and also in his Lives of the Fathers, he gives testimony to the first appearance of the plague in Gaul, which took place in the Rhone Valley in 543. The context was his telling of the saintly life of his uncle, Bishop Gallus of Clermont, in whose time, he says, “that illness called inguinal raged in many regions and most notably it depopulated the province of Arles. Gallus prayed that his diocese be spared and the Angel of the Lord came to him in a vision to assure him that his prayers would protect his people. Thus assured, Gallus led his people in various forms of devotion and indeed not a single one of them at Clermont died of the plague.

          Things went differently at Clermont in 571 under Bishop Cautinus, who scurried from one place to another to avoid the plague. “So many people were killed off in the whole region and the dead bodies were so numerous that it was not even possible to count them. There was such a shortage of coffins and tombstones that ten or more bodies were buried in the same grave. In St. Peter’s church alone on a single Sunday three hundred dead bodies were counted.” Gregory describes the sore “like a snake’s bite” that appeared in a victim’s groin or armpit, leading to death a few days later. He finishes off the paragraph by saying that Bishop Cautinus came back to Clermont, got the infection, and died on Good Friday, “on the same day and at the same hour as his cousin Tetradus. Lyons, Bourges, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Dijon were decimated by this plague.

          Gregory’s references to plague in northern Gaul extend to Reims, which was protected miraculously by a relic of St. Rémi, and Trier, which was protected by the saintliness of Bishop Nicetius, but no further, while in the South these extend to Narbonne and Albi. His reference to the bishop of Nantes contracting plague suggests that the disease reached westward to the mouth of the Loire where it flows into the Atlantic. This in turn suggests that the probable route for the plague between Gaul and both Cornwall and Ireland was through Nantes, the port used in some instances by Irish monks in their travels to and from the Continent in the years around 600.

          Last edited by Jonesie; March 28th, 2007, 02:22 PM.


          • #6
            THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542


            From the beginning of the epidemic, Justinian prepared to meet the crisis as best he could. He appointed an official secretary to oversee the special problems caused by the plague. He paid guardsmen extra to remove the dead. At first, the dead were buried in cemeteries outside the city. As the disease spread, the corpses were thrown, without religious ceremonies, into the sea. Huge trenches outside the city walls later accommodated the growing number of the casualties. Volunteers helped with the disposal of the bodies as the epidemic rampaged, but after a while even the trenches were inadequate. At the peak of the plague, the bodies were barged across the harbor of the Golden Horn to the towers of Syae. The roofs of the towers were temporarily removed and the bodies were placed inside. The wind carried the stench into the city.

            All trading stopped, and the city's food supply became exhausted. Justinian borrowed both money and food from foreign governments. The food was rationed to the people by soldiers.

            Justinian himself became stricken with the plague. His wife, Queen Theodora, reigned during his illness. The daughter of an animal keeper of the Hippodrome, the controversial Queen Theodora had been an actress in her youth. The people of Constantinople resented her and blamed the plague on her alleged promiscuity during her earlier life. Justinian recovered and resumed his position of emperor. But he was never to regain his full physical strength, and like so many survivors of the plague, he suffered a speech defect.

            The plague remained in Constantinople for four months. It peaked for three weeks, at which time the historian Procopius reported 5,000 as the daily death rate. The cold weather of the fall was believed to have helped end the epidemic in the Byzantine capital.

            The plague of Justinian crippled Constantinople. It forced the Byzantine Empire into debt, and it killed over half of the city's population, including many aristocrats. Replacement of the casualties of the ruling class resulted in a shift of power and wealth to a new social faction. The disaster contributed to Emperor Justinian's failure to achieve his ambition of restoring supremacy of the Roman Empire. Moreover, the plague did not end in Constantinople. It continued to spread along the Byzantine trade routes into Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe. Remnants of the plague of Justinian are the hypothesized sources for later bubonic plagues in Italy and France throughout the 6th century.



            • #7
              Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

              > By the time Justinian's plague had run its course in AD 590,
              > it had killed as many as 100 million people -- half the population of Europe

              European population by AD700 was 14-17 million, I read.
              So this is hard to believe.
              No reports about the disease in east Asia

              estimated world population from

              graphics at
              Last edited by gsgs; March 28th, 2007, 07:52 PM. Reason: table and link added
              I'm interested in expert panflu damage estimates
              my current links: [url][/url] ILI-charts: [url][/url]


              • #8
                Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

                The History of Bubonic Plague

                Rebecca A. Bishop
                Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
                University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

                The Plague of Justinian

                The first pandemic of plague would not occur until the 6th century A.D. For pandemics to emerge, trade routes must be established so that outbreaks could spread from city to city. While it is not clear where this pandemic originated, it was in the area of Arabia, central Africa, or lower Egypt. It is known that it had reached Egypt by 542. It is described by the medical writer Procopius of Caesarea: “The fever made its attack suddenly. Generally on the first or second day, but in a few instances later, buboes appeared, not only in the groin, but also in the armpits and below the ears.”

                From lower Egypt, the plague spread down the Nile to Pelesium and then to Alexandria. It then traveled by ship to Constantinople, seat of power of the Roman Emperor Justinian. Rome had split into two empires (east and west), the western part of which had been conquered by outside forces. Justinian was in the process of rebuilding the Roman empire and reconquering its land when the plague arrived in 542. It killed 40% of the people in Constantinople, where it was described as “a pestilence by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated.”

                From Constantinople, the plague spread through Italy to Spain, France, the Rhine Valley, Britain, Denmark, and finally to China in 610. This pandemic was perhaps the most devastating in the history of the world. It is estimated that it killed 100 million people across the world, or 50% of the human population. The shortage in workers lead to massive economic downturn that would progress into the Dark Ages.



                • #9
                  Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

                  thank you so much for this information. It is very interesting.


                  • #10
                    Days of Darkness (AD 535-AD 546)

                    Days of Darkness (AD 535-AD 546)

                    By William Sutherland

                    Each day, the morning sunrise is taken for granted. Based on the laws of science, it is expected that the sun will rise each day from east to west. Yet, the question must be asked, “what would happen if the sun didn’t rise?” This was the case from AD 535 through AD 546, with the darkest days in AD 536.

                    “A mighty roar of thunder” came out of the local mountain; there was a furious shaking of the earth, total darkness, thunder and lightning.” A Chinese court journal also made mention of “a huge thunderous sound coming from the south west” in February 535. And as a Hopi elder had said, thousands of miles away, “When the changes begin, there will be a big noise heard all over the Earth,” a low rumble reverberated across the planet.

                    “Then came forth a furious gale together with torrential rain and a deadly storm darkened the entire world,” read the Pustaka Raja Purwa or The Book of Ancient Kings, a buried Indonesian chronicle.

                    “The sun began to go dark, rain poured red, as if tinted by blood. Clouds of dust enveloped the earth… Yellow dust rained down like snow. It could be scooped up in handfuls,” wrote The Nan Shi Ancient Chronicle of Southern China, referring to the country’s weather in November and December 535.

                    Darkness followed making the day indistinguishable from the night. “There was a sign from the Sun, the likes of which had never been seen or reported before. The Sun became dark, and its darkness lasted for about 18 months. Each day, it shone for about four hours and still this light was only a feeble shadow. Everyone declared that the Sun would never recover its full light again. The fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes,” John of Ephesus, a Syrian bishop and contemporary writer, wrote in describing the unending darkness. “The sun became dim… for nearly the whole year… so that the fruits were killed at an unseasonable time,” John Lydus added, which was further confirmed by Procopius, a prominent Roman historian who served as Emperor Justinian’s chief archivist and secretary, when he wrote of 536, “…during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the Moon, during this whole year… and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear. The sun… seems to have lost its wonted light, and appears of a bluish color. We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon, to feel the mighty vigor of the sun’s heat wasted into feebleness,” Flavius Cassiodorus, another Roman historian wrote. Reports even indicated that midday consisted of “almost night-like darkness.”

                    A cold then gripped the world as temperatures declined. “We have had a winter without storms… a spring without mildness [and] a summer without heat… The months which should have been maturing the crops have been chilled by north winds,” wrote Cassiodorus. “When can we hope for mild weather, now that the months that once ripened the crops have become deadly sick under the northern blasts? …Out of all the elements, we find these two against us: perpetual frost and unnatural drought,” he added, while in China, it was written, “the stars were lost from view for three months. The sun dimmed, the rain failed, and snow fell in the summertime. Famine spread, and the emperor abandoned his capital…” Other Chinese records referred to a “‘dust veil’ obscuring the sky” while Mediterranean historians wrote about a “‘dry fog’ blocking out much of the sun’s heat for more than year.” The sun was so ineffective that snow even fell during August in southern China and in every month of the year in northern Europe.

                    “Then came drought [or floods], famine, plague, death… Food is the basis of the Empire. Yellow gold and ten thousand strings of cash cannot cure hunger. What avails a thousand boxes of pearls to him who is starving of cold,” the Japanese Great King lamented in 540, while Cassiodorus added, “Rain is denied and the reaper fears new frosts.” And “as hard winters and drought continued into the second and third years [in Mongolia and parts of China, the Avars] unable to find food, unable to barter food from others…” began a 3,000-mile trek to new lands to save themselves and their families from annihilation and starvation.

                    During this sustained period of unseasonably cold temperatures from 535-546 when the sun was ineffective and blotted out, plant life experienced stunted growth – tree rings from this period show little or no growth – and many crops failed. According to climatological research presented in 2001 by Markus Lindholm of the University of Helsinki, Finland, Abrupt changes in northern Fennoscandian summer temperatures extracted from the 7500-year ring-width chronology of Scots pine, the “most dramatic shift in growing conditions, from favorable to unfavorable, between two years, took place between A.D. 535-536” in Europe and Africa. His findings were corroborated by Mike Baillie of the University of Belfast, who based on his tree ring chronologies, some from specimens preserved in bogs, that dated back thousands of years stated, "It was a catastrophic environmental downturn that shows up in trees all over the world. Temperatures dropped enough to hinder the growth of trees as widely dispersed as northern Europe, Siberia, western North America, and southern South America.” Ominously, the cold brought rats, mice and fleas that normally lived outdoors, into peoples’ homes in search of food and warmth because of the decimation that was occurring to the animal population in the suddenly hostile, chilly dark environment. Deadly bacterium, Yersinia pestis was then transmitted to people and their pets.

                    In the ensuing unending darkness, chaos reigned as “whole cities were wiped out – civilizations crumbled.” Wars raged across Europe and the Middle East, prosperous societies were stripped of sustenance and wealth, economies collapsed and huge swaths of populations succumbed to disease and plague. “With some people it began in the head, made the eyes bloody and the face swollen, descended to the throat and then removed them from Mankind. With others, there was a flowing of the bowels. Some came out in buboes [pus-filled swellings] which gave rise to great fevers, and they would die two or three days later with their minds in the same state as those who had suffered nothing and with their bodies still robust. Others lost their senses before dying. Malignant pustules erupted and did away with them. Sometimes people were afflicted once or twice and then recovered, only to fall victim a third time and then succumb,” Evagrius, a 6th century Church historian wrote. In their final stages, people “generally entered a semi-conscious, lethargic state, and would not… eat or drink. Following this stage, the victims would be seized by madness… Many people died painfully when their buboes gangrened. A number of victims broke out with black blisters covering their bodies, and these individuals died swiftly.”

                    Within seven years, due to the ivory trade, in which ships brought rats and sailors infected by the plague, Europe and the Middle East were being ravaged. In Constantinople alone, “they had to dispose of over 10,000 bodies a day, week after week, throwing them into the sea off special boats, sticking them in the towers of the city wall, filling up cisterns, digging up orchards. Soldiers were forced to dig mass graves… chaos and pandemonium [reigned]. Constantinople stank for months after months [from the decaying bodies that were stuffed in towers and stacked or dumped in streets]… [and] when the number of dead reached a quarter of a million, Constantinople officials simply stopped counting.

                    An account by Procopius went as follows: “At first, relatives and domestics attended to the burial of the dead, but as the violence of the plague increased this duty was neglected, and corpses lay forlorn narrow in the streets, but even in the houses of notable men whose servants were sick or dead. Aware of this, Justinian placed considerable sums at the disposal of Theodore, one of his private secretaries, to take measures for the disposal of the dead. Huge pits [that could hold up to 70,000 corpses] were dug at Sycae, on the other side of the Golden Horn, in which the bodies were laid in rows and tramped down tightly; but the men who were engaged on this work, unable to keep up with the number of the dying, mounted the towers of the wall of the suburb, tore off their roofs, and threw the bodies in. Virtually all the towers were filled with corpses, and as a result ‘an evil stench pervaded the city and distressed the inhabitants still more, and especially whenever the wind blew fresh from that quarter.’”

                    Out of fear, many people refused to venture out of their homes -- “…houses became tombs, as whole families died from the plague without anyone from the outside world even knowing. Streets were deserted…” Furthermore because of this fear and/or the affects of suffering from high fever, scores of people hallucinated, seeing apparitions and visions. And with the vast pestilence and destruction all around them, many could not help but wonder if the apocalypse as described in Revelation 6:8 “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death” was upon them.

                    It was so bad that some thirty years later, Pope Gregory The Great wrote of Rome, “Ruins on ruins… Where is the senate? Where [are] the people? All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed… And we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are menaced by scourges and innumerable trials.” In its height, the plague "depopulated towns, turned the country into a desert and made the habitations of men to become the haunts of wild beasts” while in Africa, major ports ceased to exist and agricultural practices all but vanished.

                    “[And] as [others] left the stricken city [wearing identification tags so that their bodies would be buried if found] they took the plague to towns, villages and farms throughout the empire. [To compound matters, with trade and commerce virtually nonexistent, food became scarce leading to the starvation of others]. Untold millions perished," with an estimated death toll of 100 million, the worst pandemic in human history.

                    “Scandinavian elites” in feeble desperation, “sacrificed large amounts of gold… to appease the angry gods and get the sunlight back.” In Mesoamerica and the Andes, cities “of perhaps one million people” emptied out “practically overnight” through starvation and disease. Peoples turned on their gods and goddesses, violently smashing their images and burning temples and towards the end, they viciously fought each other having become “savage and warlike.”

                    When the sun finally came out, overcoming the affects of a massive volcanic eruption, even though it hadn’t really been gone, minimizing the adverse affects and saving living creatures from complete extinction, the world was forever transformed. Countries and civilizations had ceased to exist while others emerged as the days of darkness “weakened the Eastern Roman Empire; created horrendous living conditions in the western part of Great Britain; contributed through drought… to the fall of the Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico; and through flooding to the collapse of a major center of civilization in Yemen;” while major upheavals occurred in China and France. More than half the world’s population when taking Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, into account, along with countless numbers of plants and animals, had perished illustrating the fragile relationship that exists between people and nature.



                    • #11
                      Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

                      I'm interested in expert panflu damage estimates
                      my current links: [url][/url] ILI-charts: [url][/url]


                      • #12

                        Press Release

                        The American Academy in Rome hosts an international conference on the Justinianic Plague

                        Study of First Historically Documented Pandemic of Plague Will Help Better Understand Pressing Public Health Issues of Today

                        Rome, November 15, 2001-The American Academy in Rome, one of the leading overseas centers for independent study and advanced research in the arts and the humanities, announces an international conference on The Justinianic Plague of 542 - 767 A.D., the first ever on this topic, to be held December 13-15, 2001. The plague cost the Mediterranean world and Europe massive population loss and had a profound impact on Christian and Muslim culture and society, yet it has been little studied and written about even less. The story of this first historically documented pandemic of plague constitutes a critical chapter in the world history of infectious diseases and has relevance to, and can perhaps help us better understand, pressing public health issues of today.

                        The plague, a fearsome contagious disease known popularly as bubonic plague and technically as yersinia pestis, is fatal to about 50% of the persons who contract it. The first historically documented plague epidemic broke out in Egypt in 541 A.D. By the next year it had hit Constantinople and soon it had spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, constituting a major pandemic that lasted for 225 years. It took the name of the Justinianic Plague after the emperor who was reigning at Constantinople in 542 AD.

                        The conference participants include historians and archaeologists whose collective expertise covers the major geographic, cultural, and linguistic areas where plague was present: the Middle East, the Byzantine Empire, and the Latin West.Moreover, a historian/molecular biologist from the English lab that made a positive identification of malaria in fifth-century A.D. human remains from Italy is to take part, as well as a molecular biologist from Marseilles who contributed to the identification of yersinia pestis in human remains of the late 1340's.

                        In addition to the identity of the pathogen(s) involved, other major issues to be raised include: (1) the weakness of Byzantine armies in the face of Arabian advances of the seventh century; (2) the increased value of labor due to the high mortality among workers, and its possible connections with the decline of ancient slavery; (3) the role of the plague in promoting monasticism and the use of icons, litanies, processions, and votive liturgies; (4) the transformation of St. Sebastian into a plague saint; (5) the inclusion of death by plague among the qualifications for martyrdom in Islam; and (6) the importance for us, in our times, of understanding the etiology of plague.

                        Conference participants include: Lawrence Conrad of the University of Hamburg; Michel Drancourt of the University of La Mediteranee, Marseilles; J.N. Hays of Loyola University, Chicago; Hugh Kennedy of St. Andrews University; Michael Kulikowski of the University of Tennessee; Lester K. Little, Director of the American Academy in Rome and Professor at Smith College, John Maddicott of Exeter College, Oxford; Michael McCormick of Harvard University; Michael Morony of UCLA, Los Angeles; Robert Sallares from the Institute of Science and Technology of the University of Manchester; Peter Sarris of Trinity College in Oxford; Dionysios Stathakopoulos of the University of Vienna; Alain Stoclet of the University of Lyons; and, David B. Whitehouse, Director of the Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY.

                        The conference will take place December 13-15, 2001 at the American Academy in Rome, Via Angelo Masina, 5, 00153 Rome, Italy and will be open to the public at no charge. All papers will be published in a single volume following the conference. For further information on the Academy or the conference, please see the Academy's website,, or contact Milena Sales: Tel. 39-06-584-64-70, Fax 39-06-581-0788,

                        MEDIA CONTACT:
                        Sara Fitzmaurice / Catherine Memory FITZ & CO
                        526 West 26th Street, #916
                        New York, NY 10001
                        Tel: 212-627-1455 / Fax: 212-627 0654



                        • #13


                          POST CONFERENCE REPORT

                          Justinianic Plague Conference Held at the American Academy in Rome

                          The first conference ever held on the Justinianic Plague, a pandemic of bubonic plague that was present all around the Mediterranean basin, Europe, and the Middle East for two and a quarter centuries, 541-767 AD, took place at the American Academy in Rome December 13-15, 2001.

                          Historians, archaeologists, and molecular biologists gathered to discuss this vast natural catastrophe, which up to the present has attracted very little attention from scholars. They came from Austria, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States expressly to give it the scholarly attention they think it merits. They discussed and compared all the relevant texts known to them. These are written in Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac. They also discussed the known archaeological evidence from the sixth to eighth centuries for the presence of rats (the principal vectors), for mass burials, which could contain remains of plague victims, and for the depopulation of cities, monasteries, and rural areas.

                          Prof. Michael McCormick, a historian at Harvard, posed a series of historians' questions for molecular biologists, and there were two molecular biologists present to supply answers. One was Prof. Michel Drancourt from the medical faculty at the University of La Méditerranée in Marseilles. He and his colleagues at Marseilles made the first positive identification of bubonic plague by DNA analysis of Black Death victims. In 1998 they published results of research on remains from cemeteries that can be reliably dated in 1722 and 1590. In 2000 they pushed such results back to the beginnings of the Black Death in 1348. This is particularly significant right now because there is so much serious doubt being expressed about whether the disease known as the Black Death was really plague.

                          The other molecular biologist present was Dr. Robert Sallares from the University of Manchester. Dr. Sallares and his colleagues made a similar identification in 2001 when they found malaria in bones from a cemetery dating from about 450 AD some seventy kilometres north of Rome. Thus a major question for conference participants was where and how to find remains of Justinianic Plague victims that can be subjected to the same type of laboratory analysis.

                          Other questions focussed on the influence of massive mortality on late-Roman culture, on both Greek and Latin Christian spiritual life, and on the newly emerged religion of Islam, which came to regard death from the plague as a form of martyrdom. Still others dealt with the origins of the cult of St. Sebastian as a plague saint, or with the marked rise in the value of labor because of the deaths of so many workers. The papers delivered at this meeting are to be published next year by the American Academy in Rome.

                          This pandemic takes its name from the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who was reigning in 541 AD when the deadly infectious disease arrived on the Mediterranean shores in Egypt and began to spread rapidly. It eventually sputtered out in the 760s, not to reappear until its return almost six centuries later in the more familiar guise of the Black Death.

                          Although bubonic plague was known about earlier, for example by the Greek physician and writer Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, the so-called Justinianic Plague was the first historically documented pandemic of plague. There have been just two other pandemics. The second originated in China in the 1320s and, thanks to the Eurasian reach of Mongol power, arrived in the Crimea in 1341. From there it sailed for Italy in 1347 with Genoese merchants; their ships wandered into the Straits of Messina, with everyone aboard either dead or dying, and thus introduced the Black Death into Europe. It did not disappear entirely from Europe until 1772.

                          The third pandemic started in China during the middle of the nineteenth century. Once it hit Hong Kong in 1894, it spread to the rest of southeast and south Asia. By 1899 the steamship brought it to Honolulu and to San Francisco, and today one of the largest reserves of the disease is found among the wild rodent population of the southwestern United States.

                          Once fatal to slightly over half the people who contracted it, plague in recent decades has become routinely curable, if timely diagnosis and medical supplies permit, by antibiotics, in particular streptomycin or gentamicen. Modern medicine notwithstanding, this third pandemic shows no sign of going away. Each year the world over a few hundred people die of plague; in the United States, twenty or so cases of plague are reported annually and one or two persons die of it. The continuing importance of the disease in the world today is emphasized by the report published in 1997 by a team of French doctors working in Madagascar about the first known case of resistance to antibiotics in a plague victim.

                          The plague pathogen is a bacterium named Yersinia pestis, which is carried by rat fleas. Under exceptional circumstances, rat fleas will bite human beings and thus infect them with Yersinia. The poison is drained into the lymphatic system, travels to the nearest major lymph node (in the groin, armpit, or neck), where within three days or so from the initial bite a swelling (or bubo, hence the name) develops. The patient suffers very high fever and, if no antibiotics are administered, then has a roughly even chance of dying or recovering within a few more days. Survivors have little if any immunity against subsequent attacks. The disease is normally not contagious among humans, although a patient whose infection has reached the lungs may by coughing spread the disease to persons very nearby.

                          In addition to Michael McCormick, Michel Drancourt, and Robert Sallares, conference participants also included:
                          Lawrence Conrad of the University of Hamburg; Jo N. Hays of Loyola University, Chicago; Hugh Kennedy of St. Andrews University; Michael Kulikowski of the University of Tennessee; Lester K. Little, Director of the American Academy in Rome and Professor at Smith College, John Maddicott of Exeter College, Oxford; Michael Morony of UCLA, Los Angeles; Peter Sarris of Trinity College, Cambridge and All Souls College; Oxford, Dionysios Stathakopoulos of the University of Vienna; Alain Stoclet of the University of Lyons II, and David B. Whitehouse, Director of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.



                          • #14
                            Justinian’s Foreign Policy and the Plague

                            Justinian’s Foreign Policy and the Plague:
                            Did Justinian Create the First Pandemic?

                            Marjolein Schat

                            Emperor Justinian I took power of a depleted Roman Empire in 527 C.E. Justinian’s goal was to restore the Roman Empire to her early glory, and rebuild the trade routes. The process of rebuilding the empire meant the formation and movement of vast armies, establishment of supply trains for the armies, and lots of funding. Justinian imposed heavy taxes on his citizens and re-conquered lands to help pay for his wars. Accounts of the wars given by Procopius (1914) suggest Justinian was making good progress in his attempts to restore the empire until 541 C.E. when plague broke out in the empire.

                            Descriptions of what appears to have been bubonic plague have survived from throughout ancient Roman history. Those reports were centered in the Levant (north of the Red Sea) and northern Africa, and described very high rates of mortality (Orent 2004). At this time, plague occurrences remained isolated epidemics never spreading across vast areas to become pandemics until the plague of 541-2 C.E.

                            Based on the accounts of Procopius, a historian in the mid sixth century, the plague appears to have begun around the port of Pelusium in 541. From Pelusium it spread in two directions: to Alexandria and throughout Egypt, as well as east into Palestine and from there across the known world (Procopius 1914). The plague reached Constantinople in 542, and ran its course in four months with the period of peak virulence lasting three months (Procopius 1914). From Constantinople the plague moved east into Asia Minor, and west through Greece, into Italy, France and Spain, and north into the British Isles (Figure 1) (Keys 1999). DNA from the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, has been isolated from a sixth century grave in Bavaria as well, indicating that the plague spread northward as well as westward from Constantinople (Wiechmann and Grupe 2005).

                            From the contemporary descriptions of the Plague that have survived, it clear that the first pandemic primarily consisted of the bubonic and septicemic forms of the disease (Orent 2004, Procopius 1914). The accounts describe the plague as starting in port towns and moving inland from there, and they remark that being around the sick and touching the dead did not make a healthy person sick. Although it is difficult to estimate the percentage of the population that died as a result of the Plague, Procopius (1935) reports that in Constantinople 5000 – 10,000 people died each day at the height of the disease.

                            Procopius, who did not like Justinian, suggested in his Secret History that Justinian created the plague and brought “about calamities affecting the whole world… not by human strength, but by another kind” (Procopius 1935). Procopius’ point of view made sense in the context of the times. By the 500’s, emperors were no longer considered divine figures themselves; they were believed to be governing under the direct authority of God, and were considered temporal partners to God (Evan 1996). Therefore, it would not be unreasonable for Procopius to believe Justinian was acting as a temporal partner of a darker power than God.

                            Orent (2004) presents the thesis that although Justinian did not create the disease, he may have created the pandemic. She writes

                            Justinian had not created the disease, but he created the pandemic, which followed the movements of men and goods in Justinian’s resurrected empire. Without the empire, the bread dole, the huge shipments of grain and cloth from Africa, it is difficult to imagine how the First Pandemic could ever have erupted.

                            When Emperor Constantine I died in 337 C.E., his sons split the empire and it began to crumble in a process that continued until Justinian’s ascendancy (Evans 1996). Justinian wanted to restore the empire to glory by taking Italy back from the Ostrogoths and North Africa back from the Vandals. He also needed to protect the eastern borders from the Persians (Orent 2004). To pay for this, Justinian taxed his people and demanded tributes from the lands he reclaimed, including grain from North Africa. The grain tribute from Africa was approximately 240 metric tons per year (Evans 1996) and primarily went to Constantinople where it was used in a bread dole to feed the people of the city. The grain was brought to Constantinople by ship across the Mediterranean Sea. Bad weather and heavy seas closed the Mediterranean Sea to shipping from November to March, and it was still dangerous an additional two months on either side of the closed period (Temin 2001). With only four “safe” months out of a year in which grain could be shipped, horrea (warehouses) were built to store the grain. The early horrea of Ostia and Rome were 60 foot by 100 foot one story buildings (Vitelli 1980), but in Constantinople some have been reported as large as 90 feet by 280 feet and “ineffably” tall (Evans 1996). The horrea were ideal breading grounds for rats and fleas, and Orent (2004) claims that the combination of these plague factories and expanded trade routes were the catalyst for the plague going from epidemic to pandemic.

                            Although renewed trade, war, and presence of horrea in Constantinople and other major port cities such as Alexandria undoubtedly played a role in the First Pandemic, none of those factors is unique to Justinian’s reign as Emperor. The Roman Empire has a long history of conquest, reconquest, grain tributes, and grain storage. Historians have found evidence that as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E. Mesopotamian grain producers were compelled to provide a portion of their surplus grain for “socially defined ends” (Vitelli 1980). This suggests both the existence of in-kind grain taxes as well as some sort of social welfare system. There is also evidence of a grain dole in Rome as early as 53 B.C.E., and historians believe that as many as 320,000 citizens in the city of Rome benefited from state provided grain in 46 B.C.E. (Vitelli 1980). As the city of Rome grew, the ability of the local population to produce enough grain to feed the city declined. During Rome’s peak prosperity, as much as two thirds of the grain needed to feed the city was imported from elsewhere (Vitelli 1980). Due to the difficulty in navigating to Rome by ship, grain was stored in Ostia in horrea that were clustered along the main roads and along the Tiber River. As weather permitted, the grain was then moved from Ostia to warehouses in Rome’s commercial areas near Ponte Testaccio (Vitelli 1980).

                            In 330 C.E., Emperor Constantine I began building Constantinople on the site where Byzantium stood. When Constantine I died in 337, he split the empire between his three sons. Constantine II moved the capital of his third of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 359 C.E. (Scaruffi 1999). When Constantine II moved the capital to Constantinople, he diverted the grain being shipped out of Africa from Rome to the new capital. At the same time he initiated a bread dole in Constantinople modeled after the grain dole that had been in place in Rome (Evans 1996).

                            If grain storage necessitated by the short shipping period and the bread dole alone were the catalysts for the Justinian Plague, I would expect conditions would have been ripe for a pandemic earlier in Roman history. The amount of grain shipped and stored may have declined after the Vandals crossed the Strait of Gibralter in 427 C.E. and began the reconquest of Africa (Scaruffi 1999) and the extent of trade routes most likely declined as the size of the Empire diminished. Justinian did not come to power during a long period of peace. Constantine’s three sons were involved in a series of wars to protect their portions of the empire. All the conditions cited by Orent (2004) when she suggests Justinian created the pandemic were not new or necessarily created by Justinian.

                            The fact that there was not an earlier pandemic suggests that there were other factors that accompanied the renewed trade and wars, and possibly the increase in the amount of grain stored that created the pandemic. Plague is primarily an enzootic disease in sylvatic rodents (Gage and Kosoy 2004). For plague to move from rodents to cause an epidemic or pandemic, the wild rodents need to come into contact with urban rodents or people themselves. The general health of a population can affect their susceptibility to disease, and the climate could affect the likelihood of plague jumping from animal reservoirs to humans.

                            There seems to be some disagreement about the conditions in the Roman Empire leading up to the plague. (Russell 1968) stated that the empire was prosperous, the population was increasing, and that “there seems to be no evidence of poor conditions just before the plague in the heart of the empire”. Procopius, on the other hand, wrote at great length about the financial burden the many wars and the “extravagant” building programs put on the backs of the people through taxes. By Procopius’ account, the citizens of Constantinople could barely afford to feed themselves (Procopius 1914).

                            Around the middle of the sixth century there was a dramatic climate shift; John of Ephesus, another sixth century historian, described it, “the sun became dark and its darkness lasted for 18 months. Each day, it shone for about four hours, and still this light was only a feeble shadow” (Keys 1999). Procopius also described the incident which took place in 535 and 536 C.E., writing “the sun gave forth its light without brightness like the moon during the whole year” (Keys 1999). Tree ring analysis shows an extended period of cold indicated by extremely narrow growth rings between 536 and 545. The narrow growth rings correspond to a decreased growth rate that would be expected with a global temperature decrease of approximately 3 °C (Rigby et al 2004). This mini nuclear winter is believed to have been caused by a comet hitting the earth (Rigby et al 2004) or the eruption of a massive volcano, possibly Krakatoa (Keys 1999). This cold period was accompanied by wetter than usual weather in several parts of Eurasia and was followed by drought (Keys 1999). This disruption of weather could have weakened the population through crop failures and famine, and made the people more susceptible to plague.

                            This weather pattern also could have brought wild rodents harboring plague into close contact with rodents associated with human habitation, and thus provided a link to people. Fleas require warm (18-27 °C) moist (greater than 70% humidity) conditions to develop (Harwood and James 1979). The cold temperatures and crop failures of the sixth century would retard flea reproduction outdoors, but also could have driven rats and fleas inside homes and horrea, to warmer temperatures and food sources. The plague is believed to have started in the area around Ethiopia, near a known plague reservoir in an area that is normally fairly dry (Figure 1) (Keys 1999). The increased rain and flooding might also have driven wild rodents from their burrows in or near river banks into close contact with human dwellings and house rodents (Keys 1999).

                            Wars, grain storage, and bread dole were not unique to Justinian’s reign, and therefore were not likely to be the reason a plague pandemic occurred while he was in power. The dramatic shift in climate from 535 – 540, a factor completely out of Justinian’s control, is more likely to have set the stage for the plague to jump from animal reservoirs to humans. Justinian’s horrea, trade routes, and supply lines most likely influenced the extent of the pandemic even if they did not cause the pandemic.



                            • #15
                              Re: THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN - AD 541-542

                              > From Constantinople, the plague spread through Italy to Spain, France, the Rhine Valley,
                              > Britain, Denmark, and finally to China in 610. This pandemic was perhaps the most devastating
                              > in the history of the world. It is estimated that it killed 100 million people across the world,
                              > or 50% of the human population.

                              I didn't find anything about plague in China before 1300.

                              however Chinese population is given as

                              626:11.5 (since 618: Tang-dynasty)


                              but this could be rather uncertain, I'm not sure


                              they don't mention the Justinian plague in that paper.

                              Here are some other population figures, which I found:


                              The Justinianic plague: origins and effects
                              PETER SARRIS , Trinity College, Cambridge.(2002)
                              This article addresses the subject of the first well-attested outbreak of bubonic plague in the history of the Mediterranean world – the so-called ‘Justinianic Plague’ of the sixth century. The African origin of the disease is examined and contextualized, whilst recent revisionist arguments in relation to the scale of the depopulation caused by the plague are responded to with reference to the numismatic, legal, and papyrological sources. The numismatic evidence in particular points to a major crisis in imperial finances for which large-scale depopulation would be the most likely cause. The legal and papyrological sources record how both landowners and the imperial authorities responded to this situation.

                              (full text $15)
                              Last edited by gsgs; June 10th, 2007, 09:51 AM.
                              I'm interested in expert panflu damage estimates
                              my current links: [url][/url] ILI-charts: [url][/url]