Plague in the Roman Empire

The Justinian Plague, which started in the sixth century — and was named after the reigning emperor, Justinian, who caught the disease but survived — was really an epidemic of the plague or some other illness. The historian Procopius of Caesarea recorded detailed symptoms of the sickness, which afflicted millions of people from the mid-sixth century onward.

“The Justinianic plague first proliferated in Constantinople. The proximate cause was probably a terrible earthquake in 542, which reduced parts of the city to rubble. One theory suggests that corpses — as well as food that had tumbled out of storehouses — may have triggered a sharp rise in the rat population, creating ideal conditions for the spread of the flea-infested rats. Because Constantinople was extremely well-connected to other Mediterranean port cities by sea, the epidemic that eventually swept across the whole of Europe probably moved along shipping routes.”

— Chapter 8, A Short History of Humanity

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