In times of hardship, it’s not an unnecessary exercise to fortify our spirit with philosophical ideas and some great example of how people manage to handle great pandemics like Plague of Justinian, Black Death, New World smallpox or Spanish flu. So in the context of COVID 19 we don’t slip into the trap of panic and we are preparing to reply with a video that will change your attitude towards this historical cycling mechanism that put us in this situation.
According to contemporary sources, the outbreak of Justinian’ Plague in Constantinople was thought to have been carried to the city by infected rats on grain ships arriving from Egypt. To feed its citizens, the city and outlying communities imported large amounts of grain, mostly from Egypt. The rat and flea population in Egypt thrived on feeding from the large granaries maintained by the government.
The Byzantine historian Procopius first reported the epidemic in 541 from the port of Pelusium, near Suez in Egypt. Two other firsthand reports of the plague’s ravages were by the Syriac church historian John of Ephesus and Evagrius Scholasticus, who was a child in Antioch at the time and later became a church historian. Evagrius was afflicted with the buboes associated with the disease but survived. During the disease’s four returns in his lifetime, he lost his wife, a daughter and her child, other children, most of his servants and people from his country estate.
Byzantine scholar Procopius, in a passage closely modeled on Thucydides, recorded that at its peak the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople daily, but the accuracy of the figure is in question, and the true number will probably never be known. He noted that because there was no room to bury the dead, bodies were left stacked in the open. Funeral rites were often left unattended to, and the entire city smelled like the dead. In his Secret History, he records the devastation in the countryside and reports the ruthless response by the hard-pressed Justinian:
As a result of the plague in the countryside, farmers could not take care of crops and the price of grain rose in Constantinople. Justinian had expended huge amounts of money for wars against the Vandals in the region of Carthage and the Ostrogoths’ kingdom in Italy, but he also had dedicated significant funds to the re-construction of great churches, such as Hagia Sophia, a mega-structure burned down in 532.
The Hagia Sophia anchors the Old City of Istanbul and has served for centuries as a landmark for both Orthodox Christians and Muslims, as its significance has shifted with that of the dominant culture in the Turkish city.
Justinian chose geometer and engineer Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ writings: Columns and other marbles were brought from all over the empire, throughout the Mediterranean. The idea of these columns being spoils from cities such as Rome and Ephesus is a later invention. Even though they were made specifically for Hagia Sophia, the columns show variations in size. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was contemporaneously recognized as a major work of architecture. The theories of Heron of Alexandria may have been utilized to address the challenges presented by building such an expansive dome over so large a space.
Rebuilt by the orders of Emperor Justinian, for 900 years Hagia Sophia had been the center of Orthodox Christianity until 1453 when the city was concurred by Ottomans. 500 years following the conquest of Muslims, it became a jewel for the Muslim world and as the grand mosque of the sultans.
In 1935, Hagia Sophia had been converted into a museum of Turkish Republic and in 1985 was choosen a world heritage site by UNESCO, and became one of the most significant monuments not only in Turkey but on earth with its architecture and its historical richness. The Hagia Sophia’s role in politics and religion remains a contentious one, even today—some 1500 years after the Plague of Justinian.
The Black Death was a plague pandemic which devastated Europe from 1347 to 1352 CE, killing an estimated 25-30 million people. The disease, caused by a bacillus bacteria and carried by fleas on rodents, originated in central Asia and was taken from there to the Crimea by Mongol warriors and traders. With up to two-thirds of sufferers dying from the disease, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of the population of those places affected died from the Black Death. In 1362, 1368, and 1381, it struck again—as it would periodically well into the 18th century.
Social effects of the plague were felt immediately after the worst outbreaks petered out. Those who survived benefited from an extreme labor shortage, so serfs once tied to the land now had a choice of whom to work for. Lords had to make conditions better and more attractive or risk leaving their land untended, leading to wage increases across the board.
The taste of better living conditions for the poor would not be forgotten. A few decades later, when lords tried to revert back to the old ways, there were peasant revolts throughout Europe and the lower classes maintained their new freedoms and better pay.
Women during and after the Black Death also benefited from the growing importance of vernacular literature because a broader cultural forum became available to them which had previously been restricted to men by the Latin church. And so, they began writing and fostering through patronage the writings and translations of others. For example, in France, Christine de Pizan became the first woman in Europe to support herself by writing. She is best remembered for defending women in The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. Venetian by birth, Christine was a prominent moralist and political thinker in medieval France. Christine’s patrons included dukes Louis I of Orleans, Philip the Bold, and John the Fearless. Her books of advice to princesses, princes, and knights remained in print until the 16th century. She wrote in many different literary forms, such as an autobiography and books of moral advice for men and women, as well as poetry on a wide range of topics. In her treatise The Letter to the God of Love, she responded to Jean de Meun’s anti-feminist writings found in his conclusion of Romance of the Rose. Her treatise marked the first instance in European history where a woman was able to respond to such diatribes in writing.
With so much land readily available to survivors, the rigid hierarchical structure that marked pre-plague society became more fluid. The Medici family, important patrons of Italian Renaissance culture, originated in the rural area of Mugello in Tuscany and moved to Florence soon after the plague. They initially established their fortune in the wool trade and then branched out into banking. As the family achieved wealth and power, they promoted such artists as Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo—not to mention producing four popes and two regent queens of France.
Would such mobility have been possible without the social and economic upheaval caused by the Black Death or other pandemics , Historians will likely debate this question for many years but we certainly know that humanity is capable to recover from this kind of situation with a progressive spiritual reply.