Plague of Justinian

pandemic in the Byzantine Empire, later northern Europe

The Plague of Justinian[1] was a pandemic caused by bubonic plague. It happened during the years of 541 to 542 in the Byzantine Empire. It was the first pandemic recorded in history. Historians estimate that this pandemic killed as many as 100 million people across the world,[2][3] partly because it returned every twelve years until 770, when it stopped for about 500 years.

Between 541 and 700, the Plague of Justinian killed about half of the people in Europe.[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 impactEdit

Through trade, the plague came from India to Ethiopia or Egypt. Eventually, trade ships brought the plague north to the large city of Constantinople. Ships bringing grain, which Constantinople imported, carried rats along with them. These rats carried the plague.[7] By the end of the pandemic, the plague had killed 40% of Constantinople's population. At its worst, it killed 10,000 people in Constantinople every day.

In total, about 25 million people died because of the Plague of Justinian.[7] It is said to have contributed to the fall of the Byzantine Empire, because it killed farmers and caused famine. Also, the empire relied on tax money, and the plague killed many taxpayers.[8]


  1. Little, Lester K., ed., Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541–750, Cambridge, 2006. ISBN 0-521-84639-0.
  2. "The History of the Bubonic Plague". Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  3. "Scientists Identify Genes Critical to Transmission of Bubonic Plague". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  4. An Empire's Epidemic
  5. Justinian's Flea
  6. "The Great Arab Conquests". Archived from the original on 2009-02-02. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lahanas, Michael. "Plague of Justinian". Archived from the original on 2010-04-22. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  8. North, Joshua (January 2013). "The Death Toll of Justinian's Plague and Its Effects on the Byzantine Empire". Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History. Archived from the original on 12 February 2015. Retrieved 23 Dec 2014.


  • 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.