An Ancient Bubonic Plague Outbreak Was Exaggerated, Scientists Claim

Centuries ago, a number of deadly plagues swept the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people and forever altering our history. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the Black Death plague in Europe, carried by rats from ships and killing around tens of millions of people in Europe back in the 14th century.

However, according to a new update from researchers, one of those past bubonic plague outbreaks isn't as bad as people originally thought it was, even though it’s been characterized as a mass killer that contributed to the fall of ancient civilizations.

Exaggerated Plague

The plague in question is the Justinianic Plague, which occurred in Eurasia sometime during the sixth century. Per researchers, the plague did in fact kill lots of people. However, it wasn’t big enough to actually trigger major events in history such as the emergence of modern Europe, the rise of Islam and the decline of the eastern Roman Empire. This is all according to environmental historian Lee Mordechai and his colleagues.

According to scholars, this particular plague caused tens of millions of deaths starting in the sixth century, as well as reduced the populations of Europe and the Middle East by 25 to 60 percent. As a result, economies crumbled and fell, leading to a period of stagnation and slowly killing off what’s left of the Roman Empire.

However, new archaeological research and evidence shows otherwise, stating that the plague only had a modest impact at best and that land use and cereal cultivation remained the same throughout the plague’s duration. Burials of five or more deceased individuals in the same grave also didn’t increase during the sixth century, which is usually a cultural practice done during plagues.

“Support for the claim that the Justinianic plague was a watershed event in the ancient world is just not there,” Merle Eisenberg, study co-author and an environmental historian, said. Of course, it did strike some densely-populated areas, although researchers now have reason to believe that it wasn’t the world-changing event it’s initially thought to be.

Caused by the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis, the Justinianic Plague occurred centuries before the famous Black Death plague in Europe.

bubonic plague Plague originated in China centuries before it arrived in the United States by ships around 1900. Photo courtesy