The Pandemic That Nearly Brought Down An Empire
Justinian’s Plague Brought Constantinople To Her Knees

The Pandemic That Nearly Brought Down An Empire | by Grant Piper | History of Yesterday | Aug, 2020 | Medium

he days are cold and short, despite being well into the summer months, the world is behaving strangely. The sun rises and the sun sets and the rivers flow to and fro but nothing is as it should be. The old territories of the Western Roman Empire are usually warm and green this time of year but this year, 541CE, the world is gray and cold. Food is scarce, the old empire is gone, and hungry bands of people roam the land in search of food and safety. Many try to reach the relatively safe confines of the Byzantine Empire which has managed to stabilize itself after the traumatic fall of Rome in 476CE.

The problem is, the land is torn by war and strife. Hunger is rampant and the strange cold summer looks as though it refuses to ever warm itself. Soon, this scene will be stricken by a horrible plague.

Long before the infamous Black Death ravaged Europe during the High Middle Ages, the same bacterium, Y. pestis, arrived on the scene in the nascent Byzantine Empire. Traveling along the same disease vectors as the Black Death of the 14th century, the insidious plague seeped over trade routes, on ships via black rats that followed the grain around the world. This outbreak of plague, was just as devastating as the later outbreaks that would occur nearly a millennium later and ravaged Constantinople in a time of terrible trials.

By the end of it, nearly half of Europe would contract the disease with millions upon millions dead.

The rising star of Constantinople would grind to a halt and an empire with grand designs would go from dreams of a glorious expansion to the brink of collapse in two years time.


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