Black Death: Did the plague help finish off the Romans?
2013-05-13 0:00

By Mark Prigg | DailyMail

The same strain of killer bacteria that caused the Black Death and spread around the world in the mid 1800s may have helped finish off the Roman Empire, researchers have claimed.

DNA analyses of skeletal remains of plague victims from the 6th century AD found traces of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, has already been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history.

Now researchers believe it also caused the Justinianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries, which killed more than 100 million people - and some historians believe contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.

The Great Plague, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries, included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have killed nearly two-thirds of Europe in the mid-1300s.

An artist’s recreation of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian I - which was decimated by the plague

The Modern Plague struck around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, beginning in China in the mid-1800s and spreading to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe and other parts of Asia.

However, until now researchers have been unsure whether it was also responsible for the Justinianic Plague.

At its peak, 5,000 people per day in Constantinople died from it, killing half the population.

Some historians say the damage was so great to the Persian and Byzantine empires that it made them vulnerable to the Muslim conquests of the next century.

’For a long time scholars from different disciplines have intensively discussed about the actual etiological agents of the past pandemics’, said Dr. Barbara Bramanti of the Palaeogenetics Group at the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU).

’Only ancient DNA analyses carried out on skeletal remains of plague victims could finally conclude the debate.’

Dr Bramanti also headed the international team which demonstrated beyond any doubt that Y. pestis also caused the second pandemic of the 14th-17th centuries including the Black Death, the infamous epidemic that ravaged Europe from 1346-1351.

Researchers at the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University analysed ancient DNA from the teeth of 19 different sixth-century skeletons from a medieval graveyard in Bavaria, Germany, of people who apparently succumbed to the Justinianic Plague


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