Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Justinian Plague Was Not as Virulent as the Great Mortality

The Justinian Plague Was Not as Virulent as the Great Mortality

      The bubonic plague that ravaged Europe 1348-1350, referred to at that time as the “Great Mortality” and today oft referred to as the “Black Death” killed between 33 1/3% and 50% of the population of Europe, at least that is the best estimate that is available. The black death of 1348-50 was not, however, the only Western experience with the bubonic plague. For example, there was a significant resurgence in 1666 that, at least within London, was interrupted by the Great Fire of that same year. To this day there are outbreaks of plague, particularly in China and, from time to time, in the American Southwest. 

      An earlier onset of the bubonic plague took place during the reign of Justinian I; hence it is referred to as the Justinian Plague. Previously, it had been suggested that the Justinian Plague was nearly as fatal as the Black Death, and that it’s decimation of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean precipitated the final collapse of that region of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Middle Ages. This viewpoint is evident from the title of a book on the Justinian Plague, namely William Rosen, Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire (emphasis added).  Still, Rosen acknowledged that prior suggestions that the Justinian Plague killed one hundred million “is at least three times too high.” Id. at 209.

      Even that analysis is now been brought into dispute. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America titled The Justinianic Plague: An Inconsequential Pandemic? (HERE IS A LINK to the article), it is argued, based upon the utilization of mutually supporting methodologies, that “a massive plague mortality is all but invisible in the contemporary quantitative data sets. We contend that this is sufficient evidence to reject the current scientific and humanistic consensus of the [Justinian plague] as a major driver of demographic change in the 6th century Mediterranean region.” They go on to acknowledge that the evidence available does not permit a determination of the actual impact of the Justinian Plague upon population.

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