Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe

Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe In the middle of the sixth century, the worlds smallest organism collided with the worlds mightiest empire With the death of twenty five million people, the Roman Empire, under her last great emperor, Justinian, was decimated Before Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that carries bubonic plague, was finished, both the Roman and Persian empires were easy pickings for the armies of Muhammad on their conquering march out of Arabia In its wake, the plague historys first pandemic marked the transition from the age of Mediterranean empires to the age of European nation states from antiquity to the medieval worldA narrative history that melds contemporary sources with modern disciplines , Justinians Flea is a unique account of one of historys great turning points the summer ofrevealed through the experiences of the remarkable individuals whose lives are a window onto a remarkable age Justinian, his general Belisarius, the greatest soldier between Caesar and Saladin his architect, Anthemius who built Constantinoples Hagia Sophia and whose brother, Alexander, was the great physician of the plague years Tribonian, the jurist who created the Justinianic Code and, finally, his empress Theodora, the one time prostitute who became co ruler of the empire, the most politically powerful woman in European history until Elizabeth I

15 thoughts on “Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe

  1. Rosie Hawtrey Rosie Hawtrey says:

    This is an odd book It veers from history to micro biology and back, and then for some reason trundles off to China for a while and the worshipful history of the silk worm..It really wasn t what I was expecting, and for heavens sake historians, can you please agree on a naming convention for the Persian Shahanshahs and stick to it This basically is what you d get from Lloyd Clark if Kursk had happened in 545ce and all the evidence was mostly conjecture written by clinically depressed monks.In some places the book shines, and at the least explained the climatic shift and its effect on y.pestis, not to mention the mechanism of y.pestis infection which is one of those things that makes you really wonder if there isn t an all powerful force controlling everything if there is its probably sadistic psychotic on this evidence but some of the political machinations are glossed over a bit, some of which deserve import than they re given.For a theory that says the Plague Justiniana is the single event that boots modern Europe into life, the plague doesn t get very high billing and that the plague itself becomes mobile as a result of a massive caldera supereruption gets about a paragraph.All in all a bit meh , too much concentration on the usual armies tramping here, there and everywhere and not enough on the physical background to the plague itself. and the reasons why it kept popping up poor harvests due to cooling, lack of food, weaker immunity in general incipient sickness, and possibly lack of quality of the food that was available.I m ambivalent on this one, in some places genuinely investing and relevant to the subject at hand, in others, the relevance of the technical minutiae of building Hagia Sophia for example, while interesting, is somewhat irrelevant to epidemiology and the study thereof

  2. Marin P Marin P says:

    A compelling volume on Justinian era, dealing with the emperor s achievements in reuniting the empire in the context of the interactions between the Roman, Mediterranean, and Eastern World at the time, the building of Hagia Sophia, Justinianic Code and the plague influence in the collapse of the classical civilization.Full of facts, ideas and very readable, jumps from one theme to another sometimes in surprising directions The in depth description of the bacterium evolvement feels like another book.Justinian as a person doesn t get enough attention and the influence of plague might not have been as important as his theory implies but I found the book enchanting and I have to re read it at some point in the future.

  3. Jeremy Jeremy says:

    Justinian s Flea is subtitled, Plague, Empire but if that s the intention, why bother with such a superficial account of Constantine at all Much of the rest of the book stays with Justinian, but while some events from his reign are covered in great detail there s a fairly good account of Belisarius, for instance , others are passed over in a mere sentence or not mentioned at all, and one searches in vain for any objective selection criteria There are much better accounts of this period John Julius Norwich s superb Byzantium triology, for example, manages to leave one with a much better appreciation of Justinian s life and times despite using far fewer words.For a book which is supposed to show the impact of the plague on European life, it takes an astonishingly long time to get on to its subject matter There are 325 pages of text, yet plague isn t mentioned until page 167, than half way through the book Plague then receives only two short chapters much of the material here being in too much scientific detail to be able to hold the interest of the average history reader , before dropping out of the account other than for occasional afterthoughts The book simply doesn t cover the material it claims to There are laws against this kind of thing, you know.There are subjective parallels with events of modern history, and pointless digressions throughout The Persians are introduced only to be removed from the story on account of allegedly the threat of the plague, and towards the end of the book there is a diversion into the silk trade for what purpose, it s hard to say.And as for the birth of Europe well, it receives precisely two and a half pages at the very end yes, that s it I m not joking These offer only a shallow and rather childish what if scenario, postulating that no plague would have meant no Holy Roman Empire, no Crusades, no Napoleon and no Hitler What nonsense Justinian s Flea is a moderately interesting read of sixth century history, but it is no than that This is the first book by William Rosen, whom we learn has made his living as a publisher than as a writer One cannot help wondering whether a fellow publisher backed this venture just to allow him to get one book to his own name His own confession that this book was written in response to the question, What would you do if you were unafraid to fail speaks for itself.Grammar and punctuation confirm to American standards, which is irritating for readers of British English There are errata throughout, which should have been picked up by even an inexperienced proofreader.

  4. rd55 rd55 says:

    This is a fascinating book written in a popular rather than a strictly academic fashion but it makes for a great read The writer s absorption in early Byzantine history flows through every page and he has the good author s knack of keepinjg up the pace while not mnissing opportunities to entertain and inform I have many academic texts on this period on my shelves and Rosen s book is worthy of a place deside them Thoroughly recommended for new entrants to the world of Byzance.

  5. Mr.R Keeble Mr.R Keeble says:

    fair price, prompt delivery and a good read

  6. Patrick Sullivan Patrick Sullivan says:

    Justinian was the last great Emperor, and Belisarius was the last great general of the Empire I thought Rosen gave a good review of Justinian s politics and Belisarius military tactics The reader also gets a good feel on how the Christian church is fitting into the culture The city of Constantinople at the height of her prosperity, suddenly gets wiped out by the plague.There is one complaint I have with the book The biology details of the plague were extremely boring A few pages would have been fine Instead Rosen goes into great detail, and even describes the Krebs cycle Suddenly your back in a grade 10 biology class.

  7. luca75 luca75 says:

    pi che altro un affresco, ricco di interessanti digressioni, dell intera epoca, e non un libro che parla specificamente della peste.Denso di informazioni, ma scritto bene, cos che si lascia leggere con gusto.

  8. marc dupont marc dupont says:

    This writing is all over the place The title is misleading as the book proposes to discuss the plague and doesn t This is a condensed, confusing essay on Roman Byzantine history with very little structure.

  9. Manuela Canzi Manuela Canzi says:

    Un libro divulgativo che spazia dalla storia con descrizioni vivide dei personaggi alla biologia bella la parte sull evoluzione dei batteri Purtroppo per quanto ne so non ancora stato tradotto in Italiano Consigliato.

  10. Laura O'Reilly Laura O'Reilly says:

    This is a great book about a Plague that is really thought of or talked about I like how the author not only talks about the plague but also the time the people and how is changed history.

  11. pws pws says:

    First and foremost this is a history that interweaves the plague with the people, circumstances and events during the reign of Emperor Justinian It isn t a history of the science of the first great plague though JUSTINIAN S FLEA includes plenty of scientific detail The history begins a little before Justinian s reign and ends at the founding of the Islamic world all while chronicling the dozens of times bubonic plague reemerged throughout the empire Though I ve studied this era of the Roman empire, I d never really associated with bouts of plague Rosen persistently avoided the typical focus on the rather outlandish duo of Justinian and Theodora choosing to relate the stories of generals like Belisarius and administrators such as John the Cappadocian as well as an extensive section on the Hagia Sofia I found this level of detail informed without overwhelming me while Rosen s often humorous depictions kept the book entertaining while covering an amazing amount of subject matter rather effortlessly.There are a few drawbacks for a potential reader despite the author s skill as a storyteller Unfortunately, the intro itself is a bit awkward yet important because it s the lead in to the rest of the book If I d been the editor s editor, I d have had him cut this section which seems to be an inexplicable tie in to Ad Astra, really and replace it with a dedication and maybe a relevant quote or two I suggest starting with the prologue I d also suggest using an atlas of antiquity The only drawings included are of parts of maps that could fit on one page Otherwise, Rosen describes the Hagia Sofia so vividly no visuals are needed I ll probably find a coffee table book of it anyway One other minor problem are year references that require going back two or three pages for clarification This was especially an issue when Rosen discusses another event and its year before returning to the main timeline Except for these issues and a brief return to outer space in the epilogue, Justinian s Flea has to be one of my all time favorite books.Truly a mini course could be built around Justinian s Flea Two related works mentioned Augustine s City of GodBoethius s Consolation of PhilosophyThe last page presents the plague s return in 1347 as the Great Mortality almost as a promo for John Kelly s The Great Mortality.And of course the end notes contain numerous references to source material.Maybe a peek at Ad Astra would be worthwhile as well

  12. D. Cole D. Cole says:

    I bought this book because I m interested in history scientific history, specifically NOT political history This book bills itself as having to do with the epidemiology of The Plague and the dramatic and world changing impact thereof The title, subtitle and blurb on the back would have you believe it s about science, epidemiology, the social history of the disease, and forensics involved in tracing it s spread, effects, etc Sounds fascinating But the content of the book is actually about 5% related to any of those things The other 95% is an extremely dense and dry geo political history of the Roman and Persian Empires and their effect on the proto European settlements which would eventually shape the European continent So basically all the snooze fest stuff you used to fall asleep to in World History class If you like that stuff, great It s reasonably well written, very thorough and informative I have to admit, I did learn a lot about quite a few Persian and Roman emperors, generals, soldiers, their family dramas, personality traits, politics, battles, marches, victories, defeats yawn what was I talking about What really bugs me is how the book s entire supposed thesis, as described very clearly and succinctly in the subtitle and elsewhere How the Plague brought about the fall of the Roman Empire is barely a footnote in the entire tome In fact, when they do get around to talking about the impact of The Plague on the Roman Empire, it s surprisingly dismissed as a possible factor Not sufficient Probably not even necessary Basically, We don t really know and no one could ever really know Buried in the depths of this thick text is a single sentence which brings it all around, saying something to the effect of Yeah, well, so maybe it mattered, maybe it didn t Everything probably would have worked out just about the same, with or without the plague What Are you kidding me What a disappointment I feel like the publisher was quite possibly intentionally attempting to ride the wave of popular science sociology writing with multiple instances of misleading information on the cover to no discredit of the author Too bad The book itself, to the right audience, would be a good one But I m not that audience and never would have spent my time or money having to learn that the hard way.

  13. jdown jdown says:

    The bulk of this history book is devoted to the late stages of the Roman empire and Emperor Justinian s efforts to reclaim Italy and parts of Africa There is less about the bubonic plague itself, which struck the empire in 541 542 CE This is apparently because so few details have survived the 1500 years since then By contrast, when the Black Death struck Europe again in the mid 1300s, we had diarists, church and state records that provide a detailed picture of what happened and when in just about all parts of Europe.William Rosen s narrative is easy and entertaining to read For a historian, he does an excellent job of explaining the pathology of the plague s causative agent, Y pestis, and how it is so deadly in humans once it gets going As well, the major take home lesson from the book is that the plague of Justinian had an enormous impact on the course of history It decimated the populace and armies of the Roman empire Partly as a result, the Muslim empires of the Middle East, where the plague was less deadly, were soon able to conquer Egypt, much of the rest of North Africa, and Spain.

  14. Susan Elizabeth Susan Elizabeth says:

    Complete and total waste of time and money if you to read about the plague I quit at page 232, at which time the author had 10 12 pages on the plague You get an incomplete history of the Roman Empire, at bit on the Hagia Sophia, but not much on the Justitian empire other than popular rumors Instead you send most of the time on the Huns, Theodoric and rumors about the death of his daughter, Justinian s accountant s daughter, incomplete bacterial evolution and DNA, tree rings, King Arthur s death, comets, deformed fruit flies, and after your little bit on the plague, onto rainfall, Farsi, and Kush None of this is organized in any manner and is just a jumble of disconnected paragraphs It reminds me of trying to have a serious conversation with someone that is very stoned, and that isn t a compliment Most of the information is a jumbled mess that the author doesn t even attempt to sort out or relate to the supposed topic This is one of the worst books I have read in a long time I wanted to learn in depth how the plague spread and the different ways that it was dealt with throughout the empire The fact that the architects of the Hagia Sophia had the dome collapse and didn t know how to work with the materials they had are totally irrelevant, as is the fact that there were rumors that Theodora may or may not have had Theodoric s daughter killed Equally irrelevant are the arguments of creationism on flagella.

  15. Kindle Customer Kindle Customer says:

    This book is an excellent history of the Downfall of the Eastern Roman Empire I learned so much about Emperor Justinian Thought provoking about the twists and turns of history and all the factors involving the personalities of the leaders, diseases, climate, and just good and bad luck

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