School, science

Before the Black Death

There was Justinian’s Plague. Blamed for, among other things, the fall of Rome, it devastated Europe in a time most of us know little about. I wrote a short (very short) paper on it for class, which I am sharing. Also, in an endeavour to get to know Photoshop better, I created a bit of art to go with the paper. It’s… a work in progress. I’m so used to Gimp, and this is NOT intuitive at all, I can’t find the most basic of tools to create what I want. And I don’t have a lot of time. But I’ve got covers that must be done. Let’s just say I will finish this current commission in Gimp.

flea zoonosis
Late at night, my dear…

The Plague of Justinian

“Epidemiological controversy exists in three areas concerning this pandemic,”wrote Molgaard, Golbeck and Ryan in 2012. They were uncertain, they continued, if the plague that struck between 540 and 544 AD during the reign of Justinian was Yersinia pestis, or another pathogen. They were equally uncertain if it were the same cause as the some eighteen other outbreaks that flared across Europe during the next two hundred years, and the same pathogen that would later cause London’s Black Death. However, through their research, they showed that the disease spread from port to port through the Roman Empire, leaving untold numbers dead in its wake (Molgaard, 2012).

Only a couple of years earlier, Altschuler and Kariuki proposed in Medical Hypotheses that the Justinian Plague might not have been the zoonotic Y. pestis, but the same strain of virus, Haemophilus influenzae, that was responsible centuries later for the 1918 Flu Pandemic. This seemed to defy historians such as Procopius, who wrote at the time of the plague were clear with their descriptions of what would later be called bubonic plague, “A bubonic swelling developed, not only where the part of the body under the stomach is also called the ‘bubon’ but also within the armpit, and in some beside the ears and in places on the thighs (Procopius, 2009).”

Into this uncertainty, an exciting new discovery came in 2014, when a team of researchers were able to extract DNA from the teeth of two victims of the Justinian plague. Working with radiocarbon dating, the remains were identified as having died in the time of the plague, and as they were found in a mass grave, the assumption was made that the adult and child were victims of the disease. The isolated DNA was sequenced, and compared to Y. pestis (Wagner, 2014).

The results of the sequencing proved that while the Justinian Plague, which had possibly been responsible for the downfall of the Roman Empire (Molgaard, 2012), was a variant of the same pathogen to strike down London and Europe in the Black Death, it was not the same bacterium. Instead, the lineage of this bacteria is lost in the mists of history, an independently emerging zoonosis that became extinct at some point in the past (Wagner, 2014).


Works Cited

Altschuler, E.L. ( 1 ), and Y.M. ( 2 ) Kariuki. “Was The Justinian Plague Caused By The 1918 Flu Virus?.” Medical Hypotheses 72.2 (2009): 234. Scopus®. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

Molgaard, Craig A., Amanda L. Golbeck, and Kerry E. Ryan. “Justinian’s Plague, Hagiography And Monasticism.” International Journal Of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 6.10 (2012): 67-80. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

Procopius. “unknown.” The Works of Procopius: The Secret History and the Wars of Justinian . unknown: Halcyon Classics, 2009. 117. Print.

Wagner, D.M. ( 1 ), et al. “Yersinia Pestis And The Plague Of Justinian 541-543 AD: A Genomic Analysis.” The Lancet Infectious Diseases 14.4 (2014): 319-326. Scopus®. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.