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Plague and the End of Antiquity
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521846394 | ISBN-10: 0521846390)

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Plague and the End of Antiquity

Plague was a key factor in the waning of Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Eight centuries before the Black Death, a pandemic of plague engulfed the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and eventually extended as far east as Persia and as far north as the British Isles. It persisted sporadically from 541 to 750, the same period that witnessed the distinctive shaping of the Byzantine Empire, a new prominence of the Roman papacy and of monasticism, the beginnings of Islam and the meteoric expansion of the Arabic Empire, the ascent of the Carolingian dynasty in Frankish Gaul, and, not coincidentally, the beginnings of a positive work ethic in the Latin West.

In this volume, twelve scholars using history, archaeology, epidemiology, and molecular biology have produced a comprehensive account of the pandemic’s origins, spread, and mortality, as well as its economic, social, political, and religious effects. The historians’ sources are in Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Old Irish. The archaeologists’ sources include burial pits, abandoned villages, and aborted building projects. The epidemiologists use the written sources to track the disease’s means and speed of transmission, the mix of vulnerability and resistance it encountered, and the patterns of reappearance over time. Finally, molecular biologists, newcomers to this kind of investigation, have become pioneers of paleopathology, seeking ways to identify pathogens in human remains from the remote past.

Lester K. Little is Dwight W. Morrow Professor Emeritus of History at Smith College and former Director of the American Academy in Rome. He is a past President of the Medieval Academy of America and also of the International Union of Institutes of Archaeology, Art History, and History in Rome. He is the author of Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Romanesque France and Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe.





Plague and the End of Antiquity

The Pandemic of 541–750

Edited by

LESTER K. LITTLE



Cambridge University Press in association with
The American Academy in Rome





CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
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www.cambridge.org
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521846394

© Cambridge University Press 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Plague and the end of antiquity : the pandemic of 541–750 / edited by
Lester K. Little.
p. ; cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-84639-4 (hardback)
ISBN-10: 0-521-84639-0 (hardback)
1. Plague – Europe – History – To 1500. 2. Plague – Byzantine Empire – History –
To 1500. I. Little, Lester K.
[DNLM: 1. Plague – history – Byzantium. 2. Plague – history – Europe.
3. Disease Outbreaks – history – Byzantium. 4. Disease Outbreaks – history – Europe.
5. History, Medieval – Byzantium. 6. History, Medieval – Europe. WC 350 P6975 2007]
RA644.P7P39    2007
614.5′732–dc22    2006009895

ISBN-13 978-0-521-84639-4 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-84639-0 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for
the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication
and does not guarantee that any content on such
Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.





Contents

Contributors page vii
Preface xi
Map xvi
I  INTRODUCTION
1.   Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic 3
    Lester K. Little  
2.   Historians and Epidemics: Simple Questions, Complex Answers 33
    Jo N. Hays  
II  THE NEAR EAST
3.   ‘For Whom Does the Writer Write?’: The First Bubonic Plague Pandemic According to Syriac Sources 59
    Michael G. Morony  
4.   Justinianic Plague in Syria and the Archaeological Evidence 87
    Hugh N. Kennedy  
III  THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
5.   Crime and Punishment: The Plague in the Byzantine Empire, 541–749 99
    Dionysios Stathakopoulos  
6.   Bubonic Plague in Byzantium: The Evidence of Non-Literary Sources 119
    Peter Sarris  
IV  THE LATIN WEST
7.   Consilia humana, ops divina, superstitio: Seeking Succor and Solace in Times of Plague, with Particular Reference to Gaul in the Early Middle Ages 135
    Alain J. Stoclet  
8.   Plague in Spanish Late Antiquity 150
    Michael Kulikowski  
9.   Plague in Seventh-Century England 171
    John Maddicott  
10.   The Plague and Its Consequences in Ireland 215
    Ann Dooley  
V  THE CHALLENGE OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY
11.   Ecology, Evolution, and Epidemiology of Plague 231
    Robert Sallares  
12.   Toward a Molecular History of the Justinianic Pandemic 290
    Michael McCormick  
Bibliography 313
Index 355




Contributors

Ann Dooley is Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Toronto. She received her Ph.D. from that university, co-founded the Celtic Studies Program there, and now teaches both there and at the Centre for Medieval Studies. She is the author of Playing the Hero: Reading the Early Irish Saga Táin Bó Cuailnge (2006).

Jo N. Hays is Professor of History at Loyola University of Chicago. His recent publications include: The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History (1998); “Disease as Urban Disaster: Ambiguities and Continuities,” in G. Massard-Guilbard et al., eds., Cities and Catastrophes: Coping with Emergency in European History (2002); and Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History (2005).

Hugh N. Kennedy is Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Saint Andrews. His publications include The Early Abbasid Caliphate: A Political History (1981), Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus (1996), Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State (2001), and The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century, 2nd ed. (2004).

Michael Kulikowski is Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the author of Late Roman Spain and Its Cities (2004) and co-editor of Hispania in Late Antiquity: Current Approaches (2005). In 2005–6 he held the Solmsen Fellowship at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin.

Lester K. Little is Dwight W. Morrow Professor Emeritus of History at Smith College, former Director of the American Academy in Rome, and a past President of the Medieval Academy of America. His books include Liberty, Charity, Fraternity: Lay Religious Confraternities at Bergamo in the Age of the Commune (1988), Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Romanesque France (1993), and, with Barbara H. Rosenwein, Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings (1998).

John Maddicott is Fellow and Tutor in Medieval History at Exeter College, Oxford. A Fellow of the British Academy, he is the author of Thomas of Lancaster, 1307–22 (1970), Simon de Montfort (1994), and numerous articles on Anglo-Saxon history and on English history of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Michael McCormick is the Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University. His most recent book, Origins of the European Economy: Communication and Commerce, A.D. 300–900 (2001), won the Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy of America. In 2002, he received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which he is applying to explore the intersection of the natural sciences and archaeology in the historical investigation of the later Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages.

Michael G. Morony is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His publications include Iraq After the Muslim Conquest (1984) and Between Civil Wars:The Caliphate of Mū’āwiyah (1987), the latter being his translation of a ninth-century work on the period from 661 to 680.

Robert Sallares is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Science and Technology and Department of Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Manchester. He is the author of The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (1991) and Malaria and Rome: A History of Malaria in Ancient Italy (2002).

Peter Sarris is University Lecturer in Early Medieval History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College. He is also an external Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He has published Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian (2006).

Dionysios Stathakopoulos is a Research Fellow at King’s College, London. He studied Byzantine and medieval history at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster and received his doctorate at the University of Vienna. He is the author of Famine and Pestilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics (2004).

Alain J. Stoclet is Maître de Conférences at the University of Lyons II – Lumière and a Research Fellow of the National Center for Scientific Research, working with a group on the history and archaeology of the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds. He is the author of Autour de Fulrad de Saint-Denis (v.710–784) (1993) and Immunes ab omni teloneo. Études de diplomatique, de philologie et d’histoire sur l’exemption de tonlieux au Haut Moyen Age et spécialement sur la Praeceptio de navibus (1999).





Preface

Plague helped carry out Antiquity and usher in the Middle Ages. Eight centuries before the Black Death did its part to carry out the Middle Ages and usher in the Renaissance, a similar pandemic of plague engulfed the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and eventually extended as far east as Persia and as far north as the British Isles. Its sporadic appearances persisted from 541 to 750, the same period that witnessed the distinctive shaping of the Byzantine Empire, a new prominence of monasticism and of the Roman papacy, the gradual Christianizing of the Celtic and Germanic peoples, the beginnings of Islam, the rapid accumulation of the Arabic Empire, the ascent of the Carolingian dynasty in Frankish Gaul, and, not coincidentally, the beginnings of a positive work ethic in the Latin West.

   Twelve specialists have here combined history, archaeology, epidemiology, and molecular biology to produce a comprehensive account of the pandemic’s origins, spread, and mortality, as well as its economic, social, political, and religious effects. The historians’ sources are written in Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Old Irish. The archaeologists’ finds include burial pits, abandoned villages, and aborted building projects. The epidemiologists use the written sources to track the disease’s means and speed of transmission, the mix of vulnerability and resistance it encountered, and the patterns of its comings and goings. And molecular biologists, newcomers to this kind of investigation, have become pioneers of paleo- or archeopathology, seeking ways to identify the pathogens in human remains from the remote past.

   Given the vast scope and interdisciplinary demands of the subject, the time is not yet ripe for a lone author to undertake a continuous and fully integrated narrative of this 210-year pandemic, yet it is far clearer today than it was back in 1999 when a small group of colleagues assembled at the American Academy in Rome to plan a conference that would bring together the top specialists in various aspects of the pandemic’s history. These colleagues were Lawrence I. Conrad, at the time a professor at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, an expert on disease and medicine in early Islam; Evelyne Patlagean, professor of Byzantine social and economic history at the University of Paris X – Nanterre; Barbara H. Rosenwein, professor of history at Loyola University of Chicago, a specialist in early medieval European social and religious history; and David Whitehouse, the director of the Corning Museum of Glass, a Roman archaeologist and glass specialist whose work has focused on the late antique–early medieval period. Our conversations over three days gave us a broad view – available nowhere in print – of the pandemic of 541–750 and laid the groundwork for a conference eventually held at the American Academy in Rome in December 2001. The guidelines set down for the conference specified that the disciplines of history, archaeology, and epidemiology be represented, and that the major linguistic-cultural groups in which the historical documentation was written be represented.

   Three holdovers from the planning group, Lawrence Conrad, David Whitehouse, and I took part in the conference. Among the others who participated was a specialist in the role of epidemics in human history, Jo N. Hays of Loyola University of Chicago. For the archaeology and history of Syria, Hugh Kennedy of St. Andrews and Michael Morony of UCLA joined us. Two Byzantinists, Dionysios Stathakopoulos, then at the University of Vienna, and Peter Sarris from Cambridge, the former placing greater emphasis on the written sources, the latter on material remains, also took part. For the Latin West, we had the participation of Alain Stoclet of the University of Lyons II on Frankish Gaul, Michael Kulikowski of the University of Tennessee on Visigothic Spain, and John Maddicott of Oxford on Anglo-Saxon England.

   Also present was Michel Drancourt, the lead author of a study published in 1998 by a team of scholars at Marseilles who succeeded in identifying the plague pathogen in human remains from burial pits dating from two well-documented plague epidemics in Provence, those of 1720 and 1590. M. Drancourt gave a detailed explanation of the procedures followed in that pioneering study. In addition, another experienced practitioner of paleopathology, Robert Sallares of the University of Manchester, participated. A classicist who became a microbiologist with a vast knowledge of epidemiology, he analyzed some human remains found in a dig at Lugnano, about sixty kilometers north of Rome. The director of that dig, David Soren of the University of Arizona, dated those burials to the middle of the fifth century AD, and Dr. Sallares identified the cause of death as malaria, the first such positive identification of malaria in remains from Antiquity. Lastly, Michael McCormick of Harvard, a historian equally at home in the Greek East and the Latin West, one moreover, like Hugh Kennedy, Michael Kulikowski, and John Maddicott, particularly well versed in archaeology, and whose major concern at the time was the totality of the means of communication in the Mediterranean Basin, rounded out the conference by indicating the way to a molecular history of the pandemic.

   Apart from the conclusions of substance reached at that gathering, it became clear, with regard to method, that future study of this subject should be conducted with a full awareness, in even the most minute of local studies, of the pandemic’s vast temporal and geographic range, and that historians and archaeologists need to keep abreast of the latest developments in epidemiology and molecular biology, precisely the areas that have made the most significant advances in recent years.

   Eleven of the papers presented in Rome became essays in this book; the twelfth essay, that by Ann Dooley of the University of Toronto on Ireland, is a later addition. Lawrence Conrad, Michel Drancourt, and David Whitehouse chose not to have their papers included, which is unfortunate given the valuable contributions they made to the conference. Works by all three, though, are cited herein and are listed in the bibliography. Moreover, a brief section on the Arabic sources, culled mainly from earlier publications by Prof. Conrad, appears in the first of the introductory essays. Just one essay in this book is a reprint of a previous publication, that of John Maddicott on England, which appeared in Past and Present in 1997. That article was at once so fresh and so thorough that the fact of its prior publication not only did not disqualify it for inclusion here but rendered Dr. Maddicott’s involvement in both the conference and this publication imperative. It is thus a pleasure to acknowledge with gratitude the permission to reprint it granted by the Past and Present Society.

   Thanks are also owed to Jessie and Charles Price and the Howard Gilman Foundation for generous grants in support of this project, the latter facilitated by the foundation’s former Director, Dr. James A. Smith, and one of its trustees, the late Hon. Marcello Guidi, as well as the Vice President for Development of the American Academy in Rome, Elizabeth Gray Kogen. The Academy’s President, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, backed the project enthusiastically from start to finish. The conference benefited greatly from the organizing skills of Milena Sales, as did the notes and bibliography of this volume from the editorial skills of Maggie Hanson and Kristina Giannotta.

Lester K. Little





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