The plague may have contributed to the Roman Empire’s demise, according to researchers. Plague is a fatal disease linked with one of the first known examples of biological warfare, when Mongols catapulted the bodies of plague victims into enemy cities.
Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, has been linked with at least two of the world’s most devastating pandemics. The first was the Great Plague, which started in the 14th century and ended in the 17th.
The Great Plague also included the infamous epidemic called the Black Death, which is thought to have caused the deaths of nearly two-thirds of Europe in the mid-1300s. The second is the Modern Plague, which struck worldwide in the 19th and 20th centuries. It started in China in the mid-1800s before spreading to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and other parts of Asia.
Past studies have confirmed Y. pestis was linked with both plague catastrophes. However, much controversy existed over whether it caused the Justianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries as well. The pandemic was named for the Byzantine emperor Justinian I and killed over 100 million people.
Some historians have attributed this plague to the Roman Empire’s demise. Scientists analyzed ancient DNA from the teeth of 19 sixth-century skeletons from a medieval graveyard in Bavaria, Germany. The skeletons were of people who apparently died from the Justianic Plague.
Researcher Barbara Bramanti, an archaeogeneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, stated that they discovered the plague bacterium. She added, “It is always very exciting when we can find out the actual cause of the pestilences of the past.”
Researchers say their findings confirm that the Justianic Plague crossed the Alps and killed people in the region now known as Bavaria. DNA analysis also suggests that this pandemic, much like the later two, originated in Asia.
Despite being widely eradicated, the World Health Organization still reports thousands of cases of plague each year. However, docters are able to treat the deadly disease with modern antibiotics.
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