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6 Dark Ages - The Plague of Justinian

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The eastern emperor who harbor dreams of a reunited Roman Empire. While the glory days of Roman dominance in Western Europe have long since passed, Justinian is hell-bent on resurrecting them. Town after town village after village falls to his formidable legions. Just as they did in North Africa, Sicily, and Southern Italy. One bloody battle at a time, the Emperor is reconquering the west, and it looks like Rome will rise again. The Italian campaign was one of the nastiest wars of antiquity, in terms of entire cities being depopulated, entire population massacred, and just the fact that the countryside was fought over for 20 years really destroyed Italy's productive capacity for a couple of centuries afterwards. While Italy bleeds, the Emperor builds. A thousand miles away in Constantinople, he is dedicating a new cathedral built over the ashes of his charred capitol. While the kings of northern Europe are building drafty wooden dwellings, Justinian is redefining the limits of ancient architecture. Justinian is able to use this chaos to build his empire, and he builds his empire by building the greatest symbol of Christianity, the Hogia Sophia Church. All of the rest of the mosques in Constantinople, If you want to go to Venice, St.Mark's, if you want to go elsewhere, even to the Vatican all of them are imitating Hogia Sophia. Justinian spared no expense, the best marble, the best gold leaf, the best artists, anything that he could do to increase the visual impact as one walked into the cathedral. It was meant to persuade contemporaries that he was a figure who ought to be thought of in biblical terms. With his conquests and construction projects proceeding according to plan, Justinian had every reason to feel a little cocky. By 542, his domain extended farther than any emperor in more than 2 centuries. Encompassing Italy and North Africa as well as Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Palestine. The Mediterranean was once again a Roman lake. But somewhere in that vast dominion, an invisible killer was making its way towards Constantinople. with enough ammunition to wipe out, not just the capital city but the entire continent. That killer was Bubonic Plague. This one was truly terrifying. 25 to 50% of the population at least in urban areas like Constantinople, was killed. Ten people, five of them are gone. Think of that, what that would mean in life, if half of the people that you... know today were dead tomorrow. Symptoms would begin with a sudden fever, followed by chills, Vomiting, and an increased sensitivity to light. Within 3 days, an excruciating pain would follow in the groin, the armpits, and behind the ears. Then tumors would form all over the body, and violent muscle spasms would erupt. The luckier victims would fall into a coma before the disease stole their last breath. There was of course no treatment. This turns out to have been one of the most virulent pandemics in history. The Plague's place of origin is a mystery, but it arrived in Constantinople via cargo ship. It was carried by infected fleas, which hid in the fur of rats that had hit right in from parts unknown. In May of 542, the first victims fell ill in the city's waterfront district. Within 4 months, it infected nearly half of the city including the Emperor himself. A small percentage of those infected managed to survive the plague. Justinian was among them. But as was the case with nearly all plague survivors, the disease permanently scarred both his body and his mind. By all accounts, after the plague comes through, Justinian was not the man he used to be. Didn't have as much of energy, or as much vigor. Justinian was pretty much sick during all these subsequent decades of his life. We are told that he became increasingly tyrannical, increasingly paranoid and there's a memorable story about him sort of never sleeping, but wandering the halls of the palace at night. And plotting new ways in which to grind his subjects down. As the pestilence reached a fever pitch, the city of Constantinople went on lock down. Shipments into and out of the city were suspended, and those citizens that did survive quickly began running out of food. Some citizens blamed the Plague on the Empress Theodora saying it was a punishment from God for her sexual promiscuity. But its affects reverberated far beyond the boundaries of her domain. When all was said and done, up to half of the Empire's population perhaps, one hundred million people was struck down by the plague of Justinian. It spread very rapidly, in the course of a year or so all the way as far as Britain and even Ireland. And the devastation was such that at least a third of population in most cities was killed off, and sometimes much more than that. When you have that kind of devastating population loss, mean think of it; United States has 300 million people, what if 150 million people died! You couldn't even bury them all. But worse than that, your economic productivity tumbles, your ability to defend yourself becomes truly crippled. And I think this is one of the long term cascading effects. And it literally took hundreds of years, for the population of Europe to be restored. If the future looked bleak for Europe before, now it looked pitch black. In 542, the autumn chill brought an end to the Plague in Constantinople. But throughout the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, new outbreaks would suddenly resurface to ravage various pockets of Europe and inflicted repeated suffering on defeated dwindling populous. If you'd gone to Europe in the 6th and 7th centuries, the thing that would struck you most was how empty it was! and how small the towns were if you could find towns. You would have been struck by the towns in which only a small sections inhabited and the rest was now totally abandoned and overrun by animals. In 548 AD, the Empress Theodora died of Cancer. Justinian outlived her by 17 years. Throughout his reign, his armies managed to hold onto his conquests in Western Europe. But his dream of a reunited Rome would die with him. As soon as Justinian dies, the Byzantine Empire decides that it cannot fund these overseas forces and so they simply pull back. So while, Justinian may have had this great influence..

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Duration: 8 minutes and 19 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: schoogle on Nov 24, 2015

6 Dark Ages - The Plague of Justinian

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