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The Plague of Justinian

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of plague in 541AD in Byzantium that was said, at the time, to have blighted the lives of all mankind.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the plague that broke out in Constantinople 541AD, in the reign of Emperor Justinian. According to the historian Procopius, writing in Byzantium at the time, this was a plague by which the whole human race came near to being destroyed, embracing the whole world, and blighting the lives of all mankind. The bacterium behind the Black Death has since been found on human remains from that time, and the symptoms described were the same, and evidence of this plague has since been traced around the Mediterranean and from Syria to Britain and Ireland. The question of how devastating it truly was, though, is yet to be resolved.


John Haldon
Professor of Byzantine History and Hellenic Studies Emeritus at Princeton University

Rebecca Flemming
Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge


Greg Woolf
Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

49 minutes

Last on

Thu 21 Jan 2021 21:30



Greg Woolf at the University of London

Rebecca Flemming at the University of Cambridge

John Haldon at Princeton University


Robert Forster and Orest Ranum (eds.), Biology of Man in History (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), especially ‘The Plague in the Early Middle Ages’ by J.-N. Biraben and Jacques Le Goff

Kyle Harper, The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire (Princeton University Press, 2017)

Erik Hermans (ed.), A Companion to the Global Early Middle Ages (Arc Humanities Press, 2020), especially ‘Climate and Disease’ by Peter Sarris

Lester K. Little (ed.), Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750 (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Michael Maas (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Michael McCormick, ‘Gregory of Tours on Sixth-Century Plague and other epidemics’ - Speculum 96 (2021), p38-96

Mischa Meier, ‘The ‘Justinianic Plague’: An ‘Inconsequential Pandemic’? A Reply’ - Medizinhistorisches Journal 55 (2020), p172-199

Procopius (trans. H B Dewing), History of the Wars: Books I and II (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)

William Rosen, Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe (Jonathan Cape, 2007)


‘When numbers don’t count: Changing perspectives on the Justinianic Plague’ by Monica H. Green – Eidolon (November 2019)

Climate Change and History Research Initiative - Princeton University

‘The Justinianic Plague: An Inconsequential Pandemic?’ by Lee Mordechai et al - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 2019)

Re Kyle Harper's book (listed above): J. Haldon et al., ‘Plagues, climate change, and the end of an empire: A response to Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome’, History Compass (fall 2018) – a three part review
Part 1: Climate
Part 2: Plagues and a crisis of empire
Part 3: Disease, agency, and collapse

Plague of Justinian - Wikipedia


  • Thu 21 Jan 2021 09:00
  • Thu 21 Jan 2021 21:30

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