The Plague of Justinian, one of the deadliest outbreaks ever, aggrieved the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, it’s capital Constantinople and other cities around the Mediterranean Sea from the year 541 to 542 AD recurring till it finally ended by 750 AD.
The origin of the plague was suggested to be Central Asia, based on the fact that the cause of the plague was the Yersinia pestis which stems from some regions in China. It’s believed to be one of the deadliest pandemics in history killing between 20-100 million people. Killing 5,000 a day at its peak during the two centuries as it spread across Asia, North Africa, Arabia and Europe.
The major mode of transmission of the disease was through infected rats. The rats came into Constantinople from infected grain ships arriving from Africa carrying food into the Empire.
The plague was so widespread and nobody was safe, even the emperor caught the disease but he didn’t die. Dead bodies littered the streets of the capital with no available spaces for burial; most were thrown into the sea. The plague didn’t just affect humans, even cats, dogs and other animals weren’t spared.
The after effects of the plague resulted in the weakening of the empire, mostly its economy and political system and made the empire vulnerable.
The plague of Justinian and the Black Death are similar even though the latter occurs 800 years later. Both plagues were caused by the same bacterium, Yersinia pestis, and were both spread by rodents to human beings with both resulting in large number of deaths, mostly across Europe.
The two plagues account for the deadliest in the history of mankind. The Spanish Flu (H1N1) also compares to these two and although it didn’t last for more than a year, it killed between 50-100 million people. Contrary to the name, The Spanish Flu didn’t originate in Spain. It was called that because they were the first to publicly report it. It also led to the popularization of face masks and hand hygiene which was tightly enforced by the police.
Centuries before Covid-19 pandemic, there have been several pandemics that have killed hundreds of millions around the world. Although we hope one day a vaccine will be created, there are already questions about how the novel coronavirus will reshape our societies moving forward.
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