Skip to comments.Plague Victims Discovered After 1500 Years (Justinian)
Posted on 04/10/2008 3:16:15 PM PDT by blam
Italy: Plague victims discovered after 1500 years
Rome, 10 April (AKI) - The remains of hundreds of victims, believed to have been killed in a plague that swept Italy 1500 years ago, have been found south of Rome.
The bodies of men, women and children were found in Castro dei Volsci, in the region of Lazio, during excavations carried out by Lazio archaeological office.
News of the extraordinary discovery was reported in the magazine, "Archeologia Viva".
The victims are believed to have been victims of the Justinian Plague, a pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people around the world during a 50 year period in the 6th century A.D.
It spread through Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland.
The archaeological find is the first evidence of the devastating impact of the plague.
The plague swept across the Mediterranean during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the early 540s and according to some historians changed the course of European history because the empire then entered a period of decline.
Carried by rats and parasites, the disease spread rapidly because families at the time lived in close quarters in poor hygienic conditions. A large number of the inhabitants in Castro dei Volsci were wiped out.
Modern scholars believe that the plague killed up to 5,000 people per day in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, at its peak and later went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.
I have read that the plague is one of the reasons the Manorial (serf) system eventually failed in Great Britain. There were so few left, folks just walked off and took up their own land or bargained as cottagers.
Shortly we are going to find a Freeper who posts a few snippets saved in a monestary in North Italy as proof that Western Civilization didn't collapse.
Guess somebody forgot to burn them.
It was spread by seamen.
They have socialized medicine in Italy, no?
If you die of the plague, does the plague you have die with you ?”
Yup. I've read similar things...like, some of the later plaques leading eventually to the Magna Carta and even to our own Constitution.
If you die of the plague, does the plague you have die with you ?
Oh, I’m sure somewhere there is a scientist who can bring it back to life, probably already has.
That is correct.
AIDS may do the same thing in Africa.
“It was spread by seamen.”
I thought that was AIDS.
Scientists Use DNA in Search for Answers to 6th Century Plague
By THOMAS H. MAUGH II, Times Staff Writer
By the middle of the 6th century, the Emperor Justinian had spread his Byzantine Empire around the rim of the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, laying the groundwork for what he hoped would be a long-lived dynasty.
His dreams were shattered when disease-bearing mice from lower Egypt reached the harbor town of Pelusium in AD 540. From there, the devastating disease spread to Alexandria and, by ship, to Constantinople, Justinian's capital, before surging throughout his empire.
By the time Justinian's plague had run its course in AD 590, it had killed as many as 100 million people -- half the population of Europe -- brought trade to a near halt, destroyed an empire and, perhaps, brought on the Dark Ages. Some historians think that the carnage may also have sounded the death knell for slavery as the high demand for labor freed serfs from their chains. Justinian's plague was a "major cataclysm," says historian Lester K. Little, director of the American Academy in Rome, "but the amount of research that has been done by historians is really minimal."
Little is hoping to do something about that. In December, he brought the world's plague experts together in Rome to lay the groundwork for an ambitious research program on the pandemic. A book resulting from the meeting will be published this year.
Modern techniques for studying DNA have begun answering long-standing questions about the evolution of the plague bacillus, how it infects humans and what can be done to counteract it.
While a 6th century plague might seem an esoteric subject, Little and others think that it has great relevance in a modern world that is continually threatened by emerging diseases. A second pandemic of plague struck Europe in the Middle Ages -- the so-called Black Death -- killing 25 million people and once more producing widespread social disruption.
A third pandemic began in China in the late 19th century and spread to North America, where a large reservoir of the disease remains active in animals throughout the Southwest.
An outbreak occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25, but was contained.
Plague could become a tool of bioterrorists. Russian experts have long argued that plague is a much more frightening prospect than anthrax. As part of their germ war efforts during the Cold War, Soviet scientists developed strains of plague resistant to antibiotics used to cure infections. Unleashing such organisms could potentially have a devastating effect on modern society.
Understanding Justinian's plague could also lead to insights into other types of disasters, man-made and natural, adds UCLA historian Michael Morony.
"People were dying faster than they could be buried," he said. "I find myself wondering how society survived. That's a relevant question to try to understand."
Plague is caused by a bacillus called Yersinia pestis, identified in 1894 by the Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. The bacterium once killed more than half the people it infected but is now routinely controlled by such antibiotics as streptomycin, gentamicin or tetracycline.
Plague Still Kills
2,000 People a Year
About 2,000 deaths from plague are still reported worldwide every year, a handful of them in the United States. Naturally occurring strains resistant to antibiotics have been observed recently, however, and scientists fear that their spread could lead to large outbreaks.
Y. pestis is carried by rats and other animals. It can be transmitted to humans by direct exposure to an infected animal. Most often, however, it is carried by fleas that bite the infected animals, then bite humans.
People bitten by such fleas develop agonizingly painful, egg-sized swellings of the lymph nodes -- called buboes -- in the neck, armpit and groin. Hence the name bubonic plague.
Some authorities recognize two other forms of plague, one called pulmonary or pneumonic, in which the lungs are affected, and one called septicemic, in which the organism invades the bloodstream, but all are the same disease, Little said.
Because of its possible use in bioterrorism, researchers have been actively studying the plague organism. In October, a British team from the Sanger Center in Cambridge reported that they had decoded the complete DNA sequence of Y. pestis, a feat that could help to control outbreaks.
"The genome sequence we have produced contains every possible drug or vaccine target for the organism," said Dr. Julian Parkhill, the team's leader.
Genetics shows that the closest relative of Y. pestis is a gut bacterium called Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which is transmitted through food and water and which causes diarrhea, gastroenteritis and other intestinal problems, but is rarely fatal. Y. pseudotuberculosis may be the immediate ancestor of Y. pestis, but it is not transmitted by fleas. Last month, researchers apparently discovered why.
Bacteriologist B. Joseph Hinnebusch and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health's Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana reported that the key is a gene called PDL, which is carried by the plague bacterium, but not by the one that causes diarrhea.
Although they do not yet know how it works, PDL allows Y. pestis to survive in the gut of the rat flea. Artificially produced strains of the bacterium without the gene are destroyed in the flea's gut and thus cannot be transmitted to humans.
Hinnebusch and his colleagues believe the bacterium acquired the gene from other soil bacteria by a process called horizontal transfer, somewhat akin to a form of bacterial sex. The transfer probably took place 1,500 to 20,000 years ago, they said, setting the stage for full-scale epidemics of plague. "Our research illustrates how a single genetic change can profoundly affect the evolution of disease," Hinnebusch said.
Some scholars have argued that Y. pestis was not the cause of the Black Death and, by implication, of Justinian's plague as well. Jean Durliat, a French expert on the Byzantine Empire, argued in the 1980s that contemporary literary accounts of Justinian's plague were overblown and exaggerated, and not supported by archeological evidence.
Last year, British historians Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan published "Biology of Plagues," arguing that death spread through Europe much too rapidly in the 14th century to be caused by Y. pestis.
They believe that the Black Death must have spread through human-to-human contact and argue that it might have been caused by the Ebola virus or something similar.
Anthropologist James Wood of Pennsylvania State University made a similar argument last month at a meeting in Buffalo, N.Y.
"This disease appears to spread too rapidly among humans to be something that must first be established in wild rodent populations, like bubonic plague," Wood said. "An analysis of monthly mortality rates [among priests] during the epidemic shows a 45-fold greater risk of death than during normal times, far higher than usually associated with bubonic plague."
But molecular biology may be on the brink of answering questions that history cannot. One unique feature of the plague virus is that it accumulates inside the teeth of its victims, where its DNA can be protected for centuries, or perhaps even longer.
Molecular biologists Michel Drancourt and Olivier Dutour of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, reported in 1998 that they had identified Y. pestis DNA in human remains dating from 1590 and 1722. Two years later, they reported a similar finding in remains dating from 1348.
That evidence is "pretty impressive," said Little, and indicates that Y. pestis at the very least played a role in the Black Death.
The Marseilles team is continuing to study other remains from the period to document how widespread the infections were. Meanwhile, archeologists are searching for plague cemeteries from the time of Justinian to perform similar studies.
Mass Graves Found
In Gaza to Be Studied
Archeologist Michael McCormick of Harvard University has already identified eight mass graves in the Gaza Strip, Turkey and Italy where he expects to find human remains dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries. Remains have yet to be exhumed, however.
Some researchers speculate that a particularly virulent form of Y. pestis was responsible for Justinian's plague or the Black Death, just as an unusually pathogenic form of the influenza virus caused the worldwide flu pandemic in the early 20th century. Analysis of human remains could yield clues.
Theoretically, McCormick said, if DNA is found in the remains, it could be possible to grow the organisms in the laboratory and see if it is, in fact, more virulent.
One of the "major social issues" arising from the great mortality of the plague "is that it tends to raise the value of labor," Little said. "There are not enough workers around anymore. You can't find servants and, when you do find someone, they tend to charge outrageous amounts."
Little and others believe that this increased premium on labor was the final blow to slavery during the Justinian plague and that it similarly brought an end to serfdom during the Black Death.
Historians obviously still have a lot to learn about these pandemics, but valuable first steps have been taken, Little said. With the increasing assistance of molecular biologists, he added, the final pieces of the puzzle may now fall into place.
How did plague lead to Magna Carta?
These have been fascinating articles you’ve posted in this thread.
Yes but wrong plague. It was the 14th century plague that did in the manor system. The price of labor got so high no one would stay on the manors and no one would turn runaways in.
See post #17...labor was so scarce that the laborers were able to begin negotiating contracts and rights in return for their labor and loyalties. This grew into a tradition of negotiation and eventually the Magna Carta was born...or so I've seen speculated.
That sounds like a great idea.
Scientists have already exhumed frozen bodies and mapped the genes of the 1918 pandemic flu to 'fight future outbreaks' of flu.
I'm sure NO ONE would EVER try to weaponize these nasty bugs, right?
I think Magna Carta resulted more from the English having to live under what they considered to be a foreign king and nobility. I doubt John even spoke English.
No scutage or aid...
During the black death, life expectancy at birth was - get this - 16.
It seems the english survived.
But it must have been brutal.
Imagine you are a 12-yo mother, with your first child, living on whatever you can.
By the time the child is four, it is an orphan, living like an animal.
How is a cottager better than a serf?
Some think a very large volcano erupted in the far East in 535 A.D. Summer temps. cooled and Arab traders brought the plague to Constantinople.
I can't read the Magna Carta.
That and everybody killing each other.
The average was an average. What ended up more often was that by age 16, about a third of children had lost both parents.
There’s a reason so many fairy tales have evil-step parents. It was a norm for the society.
Some thoughts of Professor Mike Baillie on that period.
"He believes that impacts from cometary debris may account for most of the downturns, especially the AD 540 event."
I maybe mistated - by age 16, half were dead.
It was indeed, an average.
The article isn’t very clear. Is this a plague or the plague?
"The team has been studying evidence from tree rings, which suggests that the Earth underwent a series of very cold summers around 536-540 AD, indicating an effect rather like a nuclear winter."
What Marsh is probably referring to is a free man, working for a wage, owning his own house and a small plot of land.
A serf was allowed to own nothing, and was tied to the land. A virtual slave. His master was whoever owned the land.
It probably wouldn't do them any good if they did. The people that survived were mostly resistant to these plagues and were the ones that passed their immunity on to us. Thats why up to 80% of the Native American population was wiped out upon the arrival of the Europeans. They had no genetic protection against a wide range of diseases that had become mere minor annoyances to the Europeans.
***It was spread by seamen.***
Nah, that was AIDS.
Opps sorry, wrong seamen.
Thanks Blam. And, wow.
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Magna Carta - 1215
Black Death - 1348
They have a dental plan.
Changed the balance of power between capital and labor.
In other words, just before Muslim expansion.
Who would stay with Lord "X" and his obligatory 120 days of service when Lord "Y" has openings for serfs at only 90 days of service? Thus a 'free market' system of valuating labor came about.
(A significant reason why I oppose open borders and Amnesty of any sort)
Magna Carta - 1215
Black Death - 1348
That was just the “big one.” There were a series of disease outbreaks since the 500s.
So which outbreak brought about Magna Carta?
It came back with the Fourth Crusade from Constantinople shortly after 1204.
That same year King John lost Normandy and there were all sorts of intra-Christian fighting that chewed up the abled bodied men, in addition to disease.
I don’t know if that plague got a name.
Fine. What did it have to do with Magna Carta?
Well, for one the plague ravaged the military in Constantinople, which King John sought to re-enforce for various reasons, but largely because he got his ass kicked in Normandy.
Raising money to to join the crusade, he oppressed the barons with scutage (tax paid by a knight in lieu of military service), the selling of women (John made a regular traffic in the sale of wards, maids of 14 and widows alike), forest stealing, and taking children hostage for ransom (he slaughtered 28 sons of Welsh hostages).
These abuses pissed off the barons sufficiently.
Second, people forget much of the MC had to do with Jewish rights -— the Jews became pretty strong numerically and financially at the time because the Jews were largely untouched by the plague (we were in league with the Devil, you know -— or it could be keeping Levitical cleanliness kept rats at reasonable numbers).
Third, simple balance of power of rural (less plague) vs. city (more plague).
Blow smoke somewhere else.
Here's an example of the colloquial vervnacular at the time:
Ich was in one sumere dale, in one suthe diyhele hale, iherde ich holde grete tale an hule and one niyhtingale.
That plait was stif & starc & strong, sum wile softe & lud among; an aither ayhen other sval, & let that [vue]le mod ut al. & either seide of otheres custe
that alre-worste that hi wuste: & hure & hure of othere[s] songe hi holde plaiding suthe stronge.
The niyhtingale bigon the speche, in one hurne of one breche,
& sat up one vaire boyhe, - thar were abute blosme inoyhe,- in ore waste thicke hegge imeind mid spire & grene segge. Ho was the gladur uor the rise,
& song auele cunne wise: [b]et thuyhte the dreim that he were of harpe & pipe than he nere: bet thuyhte that he were ishote of harpe & pipe than of throte.
[Th]o stod on old stoc thar biside, thar tho vle song hire tide, & was mid iui al bigrowe; hit was thare hule earding-stowe.
[Th]e niyhtingale hi iseyh,
& hi bihold & ouerseyh, & thuyhte wel [vu]l of thare hule, for me hi halt lodlich & fule. "Vnwiyht," ho sede, "awei thu flo! me is the w[u]rs that ich the so.
Aside from that, you're not being able to read the Magna Carta is almost exclusively related to the scribes who translated you're copy being written by a bunch of coke-bottle lensed scribes w/out their cock=bottle lensed glasses.
Here's a link to a copy written by scribes with 20-20 vision:
“Blow smoke somewhere else.”
Not to butt in, but when I see a response like “Blow smoke somewhere else” to a well-reasoned and thoughtful response, I get pretty digusted. If you disagree, disagree.
MWT, for what it is worth, the 2000 edition of the Economist concerned the very topic of the various plagues in Europe and how they formed and improved Western Civilization. I still have it, it was so interesting.
Jacquerie, you are, well, pathetic.
Note: this topic is from 4/10/2008. Thanks blam.