Synopses & Reviews
A richly told story of the collision between natures smallest organism and historys mightiest empire
The Emperor Justinian reunified Romes fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. In his capital at Constantinople he built the worlds most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Romes fortunes for the next five hundred years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed five thousand people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.
In Justinians Flea, William Rosen tells the story of historys first pandemica plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed tens of millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, left a path of victims from Ireland to Iraq, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kellys The Great Mortality, John Barrys The Great Influenza, and Jared Diamonds Collapse.
"What might be called 'microbial history' the study of the impact of disease on human events is a subject that has received great attention in recent years. Rosen's new book follows John Barry's The Great Influenza and John Kelly's The Great Mortality. An editor and publisher for more than a quarter century, Rosen absorbingly narrates the story of how the Byzantine Empire encountered the dangerous Y. pestis in A.D. 542 and suffered a bubonic plague pandemic foreshadowing its more famous successor eight centuries later. Killing 25 million people and depressing the birth rate and economic growth for many generations, this unfortunate collision of bacterium and man would mark the end of antiquity and help usher in the Dark Ages. Rosen is particularly illuminating and imaginative on the 'macro' aftereffects of the plague. Thus, the 'shock of the plague' would remake the political map north of the Alps by drawing power away from the Mediterranean and Byzantine worlds toward what would become France, Germany and England. Specialist historians may certainly dislike the inevitable reductionism such a broad-brush approach entails, but readers of Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond's grand narratives, will find this a welcome addendum." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“ Ambitious and learned . . . readers will be swept along by the strong current of Mr. Rosens good natured erudition.”
“ Impressive study of the Bubonic plague and its impact on history . . . eccentric and erudite . . . a massively ambitious work.”
—The Guardian (UK)
"History written with passion, panache, and an appealing bit of attitude."
"Impressive study of the bubonic plague and its impact on history. . . . Eccentric and erudite . . . a massively ambitious work."
—The Guardian (London)
This sweeping narrative explores history's first pandemic--a plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Maps.
The epic story of the collision between one of nature?s smallest organisms and history?s mightiest empire
During the golden age of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian reigned over a territory that stretched from Italy to North Africa. It was the zenith of his achievements and the last of them. In 542 AD, the bubonic plague struck. In weeks, the glorious classical world of Justinian had been plunged into the medieval and modern Europe was born.
At its height, five thousand people died every day in Constantinople. Cities were completely depopulated. It was the first pandemic the world had ever known and it left its indelible mark: when the plague finally ended, more than 25 million people were dead. Weaving together history, microbiology, ecology, jurisprudence, theology, and epidemiology, Justinian?s Flea is a unique and sweeping account of the little known event that changed the course of a continent.
About the Author
William Rosen was an editor and publisher for more than twenty-five years.