The Infections in the History of Medicine

The Justinian plague
Sabbatan Sergio, Manfredi Roberto, Fiorino Sirio
In their medical-historical review, the authors assess the evolution of bubonic plague epidemics: after breaking out in the Egyptian port of Pelusium in October 541 AD, the epidemics hit several regions in the Mediterranean basin in a succession of waves. The so-called Justinian plague took its name from the Byzantine emperor of the period, and seriously conditioned the expansionary aims of the Eastern Roman empire towards Italy (which was occupied by Goths), and Northern Africa (where the Vandals had settled), during the first decades of its spread. In the Eastern Empire the plague played a considerable role in reducing the tensions between Persians and Byzantines, especially on the Syrian and Anatolian fronts. It had a major demographic impact, reducing the possibility of recruitment to the Roman legions and leading to a significant drop in tax revenues, which were essential to sustain the state and its military machine. Finally, the plague also took its toll on economic resources (especially agriculture), indirectly leading to a vicious inflationary circle. In the space of over two centuries, plague epidemics paralyzed most trade and commercial exchanges. Furthermore, the Justinian plague, halting the consolidation of the influence of the Eastern Roman empire over some Western regions (including Italy and Northern Africa, which were ruled by Barbarians), supported the development and rise of a number of Roman-Barbarian kingdoms. It may therefore be suggested that the Justinian plague occurred at a very critical historical moment, which represents the real watershed between the Ancient World and the upcoming Middle Ages.

Page 125-139 - Vol.20 N. 2 - 2012