If you’re wondering what the real reason behind the fall of the Roman Empire was, it probably began with the mini-ice age of 535 CE that destroyed most of the world’s food supply and raised the rat population resulting in the frantic escape from starvation by the Scythians, Huns, and other peoples migrating from Central Asia via the Caspian Sea and the Silk Road to Europe, the Caucasus and Carpathian mountains in search of food, clean water, and pasture lands. Check out the May 10, 2013 news release, “Scientists confirm that the Justinianic Plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.”
Climate changes can have world-wide effects on people. Scientists now confirm that the bacterium Yersinia pestis caused the Justinianic plague that killed millions in sixth century Europe.
History texts may have dated the fall of the Roman Empire to 476 CE, when the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, is deposed by the barbarian general Odoacer who then rules Italy. But in the east, in the Byzantine Empire, nearly 40 years later, a mini-ice age resulted in famine, flood, and drought followed by plague.
The fall of the Empire can’t only be blamed only on invasions from Huns, Scythians, Goths, Vandals, Celts, Franks, Dacians, Magyars, and Thracians or other groups from the Balkans or the Caspian Sea arena. No, as the weather cooled, the bacteria species multiplied.
Who let the flea-bitten rats out? Hunger, famine, floods, and drought
This was just one in a string of plagues during the next 800 years and beyond to fell millions of peoples across Europe and Asia in a trail moving along the Silk Road from East to West and from South to North. It’s more than everyone wanted “a piece of the pie” of the Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire.
There was a famine across much of the known world. And the rat population increased during the famines and floods followed by droughts, along with fleas and the bacteria living in the fleas and in rat and mouse droppings.
The results of ancient DNA analyses carried out on the early medieval cemetery of Aschheim in Bavaria, Germany, confirmed unambiguously that Y. pestis was the causing agent of the first pandemic, the so-called Justinianic Plague. Check out the original study or its abstract, “Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague.” It’s published in the May 2, 2013 issue of PLOS Pathogens.
It’s the same strain of bacteria that came around again to cause the Black Death plague of the mid-14th century in Europe. Also see the article, “Distinct Clones of Yersinia pestis Caused the Black Death.”
The mini ice age of 535 CE
During the years 536 and 551 CE, a dust veil event reduced solar radiation in Europe and Asia. The cold weather reduced food crops which resulted in famine during the 6th century. People saw heavy snow falls in Iraq and Arabia followed by flooding, famine, and disease. In Britain, the years from 535-555 experienced the worse weather known in Europe during the 6th century.
In China, records show extreme drought and famine, as yellow dust rained down and piled up like snow. In Korea, 535 and 536 saw massive storms and flooding, followed by drought and starvation. In Europe, the Justinian Plague broke out across the Byzantine Empire, hitting Constantinople, its main city of commerce and population density. The city saw the Justinian Plague pandemic during 541-542 CE. Was it linked to the mini-ice age of the 6th century that began around 535?
The same century saw the migration of Slavic peoples from Central Europe into what is now Southern Russia, pushing numerous groups of the Iranic and Turkic-speaking peoples of Southern Russia further south into the already long-inhabited highland Caucasus at the same time as migrations of people from Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia entered Eastern Europe from the Caspian Sea area and began to move ever westward.
The plague, famine, and cold weather may have brought on a worsening of the so-called ‘dark’ ages when the push toward literacy was at a low point in some areas, and in other areas, the “golden age” of literature,” depending upon the particular group and access to food and clean water.
Ancient DNA analyses of skeletal remains of plague victims from the 6th century AD provide information about the phylogeny and the place of origin of this pandemic
From the several pandemics generally called ‘pestilences’ three are historically recognized as due to plague, but only for the third pandemic of the 19th-21st centuries AD there were microbiological evidences that the causing agent was the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It’s the same bacteria that also caused the medieval Black Plague that felled millions across Europe again in the 14th century.
About two years ago, Dr. Barbara Bramanti 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.
Perhaps if cats were allowed to survive in Europe they would have lowered the population of rats whose fleas and droppings carried the bacteria to humans. Instead, cats were thought to be evil and often destroyed cruelly in cloth sacks, leaving the rats to multiply along with their fleas which carried the bacteria.
DNA analyses confirmed the bacteria species that caused those pandemics
“For a long time scholars from different disciplines have intensively discussed about the actual etiological agents of the past pandemics. Only ancient DNA analyses carried out on skeletal remains of plague victims could finally conclude the debate,” explained Dr. Barbara Bramanti in the May 10, 2013 news release, “Scientists confirm that the Justinianic Plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.” Dr. Bramanti is a scientist at the Palaeogenetics Group at the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet (JGU) in Mainz, Germany.
Bramanti and her Mainz colleague Stephanie Hänsch now cooperated with the University of Munich, the German Bundeswehr, and international scholars to solve the debate as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6th-8th centuries AD. The results of ancient DNA analyses carried out on the early medieval cemetery of Aschheim in Bavaria were published last week in PloS Pathogens.
They confirmed unambiguously that Y. pestis was indeed the causing agent of the first pandemic, in contrast to what has been postulated by other scientists recently. This revolutionary result is supported by the analysis of the genotype of the ancient strain which provide information about the phylogeny and the place of origin of this plague. As for the second and third pandemic, the original sources of the plague bacillus were in Asia.
Did starvation as a result of the mini-ice age of 535 start the origin of the plague in East Asia, driving millions of people westward to Europe?
“It remains questionable whether at the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian only one strain or more were disseminated in Europe, as it was at the time of the Black Death,” suggested Bramanti and Hänsch. More research continues.
To further investigate this and other open questions about the modalities and route of transmission of the medieval plagues, Bramanti has recently obtained an ERC Advanced Grant for the project “The medieval plagues: ecology, transmission modalities and routes of the infection” (MedPlag) and will move to the Center for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) at the University of Oslo in Norway. The CEES, chaired by Nils Chr. Stenseth, has an outstanding and rewarded record of excellence in the research on infectious diseases and in particular on Y. pestis.
You can check out the original study or its abstract, “Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague.” Authors are Harbeck, M. et al. (2013). It’s published in the May 2013 issue of the journal PLOS Pathogens. More studies on the particular bacteria strain can be read at, “Macrophage Activation Redirects Yersinia-Infected Host Cell Death from Apoptosis to Caspase-1-Dependent Pyroptosis” and “A Role for the SmpB-SsrA System in Yersinia pseudotuberculosis Pathogenesis.”