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Plague of Justinian

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The Plague of Justinian[1] was a pandemic in the Byzantine Empire in the years 541542. Its capital Constantinople suffered as well. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 100 million people across the world,[2][3] because it returned about every twelve years till 770 when it stopped for about 500 years.

It caused Europe's population to drop by around 50% between 541 and 700.[4] It also may have contributed to the success of the Muslim conquests.[5][6] Its social and cultural impact is comparable to that of the Black Death.

Origin and impact

The plague may have come from Ethiopia or Egypt, and it was eventually carried north to the large city of Constantinople. Ships carrying grain, which the city imported, had many rats that carried the plague.[7]

At its height, the plague killed 10,000 people in Constantinople everyday. It eventually killed 40% of the city's population. In all, about 25 million people died because of the plague.[7]



  • Edward Walford, translator, The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius: A History of the Church from AD 431 to AD 594, 1846. Reprinted 2008. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-88-6. [1]—The author, Evagrius, was himself stricken by the plague as a child and lost several family members to it.
  • Procopius. History of the Wars, Books I and II (The Persian War). Trans. H. B. Dewing. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Loeb-Harvard UP, 1954.—Chapters XXII and XXIII of Book II (pages 451–473) are Procopius's famous description of the Plague of Justinian. This includes the famous 10,000 people dead a day in Constantinople statistic (page 465).
  • Little, Lester K., ed., Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541–750, Cambridge, 2006. ISBN 0-521-84639-0.
  • Rosen, William. Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, Viking Adult, 2007. ISBN 978-0-670-03855-8.