Justinian's Flea

Justinian's Flea

The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire

Book - 2008
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A richly told story of the collision between nature’s smallest organism and history’s mightiest empire

The Emperor Justinian reunified Rome’s fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. In his capital at Constantinople he built the world’s most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome’s fortunes for the next five hundred years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed five thousand people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.

In Justinian’s Flea , William Rosen tells the story of history’s first pandemic—a plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed tens of millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, left a path of victims from Ireland to Iraq, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kelly’s The Great Mortality , John Barry’s The Great Influenza , and Jared Diamond’s Collapse .
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2008, 2007.
ISBN: 9780670038558
Branch Call Number: 949.5013 ROS
Characteristics: 367 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.


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Feb 21, 2018

Packed with information! I enjoyed this detailed look at the Emperor Justinian. It was very much a biography, as well as an overview and explanation of the course of this first recorded plague. Justinian contracted the disease and survived, but an estimated 25 million other people died.

Jan 12, 2018

Justinian's Flea is an interesting delve into the social, political, cultural, economic, military and religious life of the sixth century. The author sometimes strays from the central (albeit) broad points at times, but usually ties up his thoughts by the end of the chapter. Each chapter has breaks within, so there are convenient places to pause and reflect.


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Jan 12, 2018

Justiniian's Flea is a substantial political, social, religious, cultural, economic and dynastic history of the sixth century, focusing on the Byzantine empire in Constantinople, but including the various, although more brief, profiles of the dominant cultures of the era. The main premise is the influence of the the Bubonic plague (carried by the fleas of rats, hence the title) on all of these factors. This book highlights the end of the "Roman" era and the shift in power to an emerging Europe, China and later Muslim dominance.

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