Natural Disasters Plague of Justinian at Constantinople Part 1

About the plague of Justinian in Constantinope, history and account of the death and destruction caused by the disease.

NATURAL AND MAN-MADE DISASTERS

THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN

The plague of Justinian was the first bubonic plague to be recorded as it happened. Over an estimated period of 50 years, the disease was responsible for the annihilation of one half of the world's population.

When: 500 through 650 A. D.

Where: Asia Minor, Africa, and Europe.

The Loss: About 100 million people.

The Disaster: The plague of Justinian ravaged the city of Constantinople and was named after the Byzantine emperor of the time, Justinian I (ruled 527-565). The epidemic started in May, 542, during the festival of the founding of the city. It began in the waterfront districts and spread throughout the entire city. Origin of the disease is difficult to trace because bubonic plagues had been scourging the earth since 400 A. D. Black rats, presumably from either India or Africa, carried infectious fleas to the capital of the empire. The fleas were the true source of the epidemic, a fact of which the people remained ignorant.

Byzantine physicians could not find a treatment for, or a prevention against, the plague. Nevertheless, the people did not flee the city. Some shut themselves inside their homes, thinking the self-imposed quarantine would spare them from the disease. Others took refuge in churches, thinking the sanctuaries would provide them with an immunity.

The sickness began with a sudden fever accompanied by chills, vomiting, and intolerance to light. The fever lasted for two or three days, but was not the cause of real concern. Then a sharp pain erupted in the groin, in the armpits, behind the ears, or in the thighs. Tumorous swellings, called buboes, formed in the painful areas, and the victim went into a coma or experienced violent muscle spasms. Some patients were unable to bear the pain and attempted suicide. Chances of recovery were slim, and those who did survive suffered a permanent speech impediment and loss of strength.

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