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The Black Plague -Vol.1- The Byzantine Connection

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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Black Plague -Vol.1- The Byzantine Connection
    Posted: 19-Dec-2006 at 07:05

I was reading about the impact of the plague during Justinian's reign, when it first arrived in Europe. According to Warren Treadgold's "History of the Byzantine state and society", the plague struck 7 times between 542 and 565, probably killing off as much as a third of the empire's population. Now, even people who are quite ignorant of history have heard of the Black Plague episode in the mid 14th century. But very few even of the people who are interested in history, know much about this first episode of the plague. In Treadgold's estimation, it probably was the deciding factor in negating the gains made by Justinian (the conquests of Africa, Italy and souther Spain) and in weakening the empire until it was vulnerable to the later catastrophic Persian and Arab attacks. Had the plague not struck when it did, Justinian's conquests could have been easily consolidated and proved to be valuable assets to the empire rather than drains on the empire's resources. Also, since it was mostly the urban population which was affected, the plague ended up having a major impact on the Chalcedonian/Monophysite schism which was unfolding at the time. By killing off mostly the Chalcedonian Hellenized population in the cities of Syria and Egypt, the plague ensured that by the time of the Arab invasion, these two regions were firmly Monophysite and thus quite receptive to be freed from the Chalcedonian overlords form Constantinople.

Anyway, does anyone have information about the plague in other regions than the empire? I know it had a substantial impact in the Sassanian empire as well, but what about regions such as Western Europe or India?

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  Quote Aelfgifu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Dec-2006 at 09:08
I know that a series of plague attacks happened in Italy during the childhood of pope Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604). He lost several familiy members himself. The plague had a devastating effect on the Italian cities because many of the rich upper class migrated out of the cities to their country estates. In the countryside, labour became more and more scarce, and as a consequence, so did food. The plague had a huge impact on the diminishing of Italy, probably far more than the famous sack of Rome.
 
These plague attacks must have been the same as yours, the dates match perfectly. I would like to menton that no historian Ive read can prove it was in fact the same disease as the 14th century one, it might have been something else.

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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Dec-2006 at 12:07

Yes, I think that these plague attacks must have been the same ones as those from the childhood of Gregory.

Really, in my opinion, the impact of this plague was absolutely tremendous from a world history point of view. If not for the plague, the Byzantine Empire under Justinian could have probably consolidated its conquests in the Western Mediteranean, and the empire's population base could have continued to support a large army, without the financial problems which led to Phocas' rebellion in 602. There's a good chance that a Byzantine Empire unaffected by the plague (and the subsequent civil wars) would have resisted much better to the Persian attacks of Khusrau II, during Heraclius' reign. Instead of a dramatic conflict that exhausted both the Byzantines and the Persians, there probably would have been more of those border skirmishes, which would have left both the Sassanids and the Byzantines in a much better position to contain the Islamic advance of the early caliphate. The results of not there having been a plague could be Islam contained to Arabia, the survival of Zoroastrian Sassanid Persia, a revitalized Roman Empire which could possibly even recapture all the lands around the Mediterranean. In short: a dramatically different course of history. And nobody talks about it...



Edited by Decebal - 20-Dec-2006 at 12:08
What is history but a fable agreed upon?
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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Dec-2006 at 13:17

The following is related informqation from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian


Plague of Justinian
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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.

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 citizensmostly from Egyptand 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.

It should be noted that ancient historians, and Byzantine historians in particular, and Procopius above all, 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.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

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  Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Dec-2006 at 14:43
I don't know if it is the same disease as the one in the 14th century but the symptoms are quite similar - AFAIK both are labelled as bubonic plagues, the fever, the hallucinations are mentioned in both cases.
 
Anyway, Justinian's plague certainly spreaded in Western Europe and I've read somewhere that it reached also China, though probably there're insufficient evidences to make a solid correlation between epidemics in such remote spaces.
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