What if the Black Death came 2000 years ago?

Jul 2019
27
Australia
Don't know much about the Black Death but just wondering how people think it (or another incredibly disastrous plague/disease) would've spread throughout and impacted ancient Europe around 400 BC had it happened at that time. I'd also like to know if it was actually possible for a plague of that time to exist and ravage Europe and how it could've began/spread. I've heard of a pretty bad plague that happened in Ancient Athens but nothing on the scale of the Black Death.

Thanks
 
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Mar 2015
1,450
Yorkshire
Pop this into your search:

Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750 - Epdf

The "Black Death" Yersina-Pestis bacterium has returned periodically to ravage human populations. It continues to evolve and I doubt we will ever see the last of it.

Earliest was 5000 years ago:

Stone Age plague accompanying migrants from the steppe, probably Yamna, Balkan EBA, and Bell Beaker, not Corded Ware – Indo-European.eu

The last pandemic swept through East Asia in 1894 but is not reported much since it did not affect Europeans.

Passed to the USA in the East Asian population in 1899 and currently resides in the ratus ratus population reservoir of the American South West (and probably some species of squirrel).

Y-Pestis still is present in Madagascar and periodically breaks out in the Highlands.

Happy reading
 
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Tulun

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
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Actually Thucydides describes exactly a plague in Athens Plague of Athens - Wikipedia
around the time you mention, so it happened. There were other notable ones too apart from the already mentioned famous plague of Iustinian, like the Antonine plague in the 165-180 AD, or the Plague of Cyprian in the 3rd century AD which i think is thought to be some ebola-like epidemic.
 
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Mar 2015
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We have been arguing in another thread about the effect of the plague on the Anglo-Saxon migration mid-500s AD.

It was thought that the Plague of Justinian had seriously weakened the British population (and may still have BTW) and consequently handed an advantage to the A-S, who were thought to have been sheltered from its effect.

However just to stir the pot, it has been recently found that several Anglo-Saxons skeletons had signs of YPestis - so that line of argument for the A-S take-over is looking somewhat wobbly.

Bubonic plague first arrived in Britain 1,500 years ago and “ravaged” the country
 

At Each Kilometer

Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
3,937
Bulgaria
The mentioned above Antonine & Cyprian plagues, much like the Justinian plague centuries later had a devastating impact on the imperial population, it was mostly the troops who contracted the disease and spread it through all the empire. Thus garrisons and standing armies were severely depleted as soldiers succumbed to the plague and social stability and economy deteriorated rapidly.
 
Mar 2015
1,450
Yorkshire
The mentioned above Antonine & Cyprian plagues, much like the Justinian plague centuries later had a devastating impact on the imperial population, it was mostly the troops who contracted the disease and spread it through all the empire. Thus garrisons and standing armies were severely depleted as soldiers succumbed to the plague and social stability and economy deteriorated rapidly.
There are some diseases which are passed from human to human but the Black Death is not one of these. It is far more subtle.

The carrier is the Flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (the oriental flea). This flea is very particular in its diet - it lives on and only consumes the blood of the certain rodents - the black rat especially. It can't even exist for long on other species of rat and the growth of the Norwegian rat population is thought to be one reason for the Black Death subsiding in Europe.

Humans are accidental victims resulting from the bite of the flea which can't live on human blood. Thus it needs a reservoir of invected black rats and flea carrier to spread the disease. The black rat will not venture outside of a very localised area - so it needs another vector for its spread.

It has been found that Y-Pestis can exist for a considerable time on grain or cloth and the mechanism for its spread is the passage of these items to a new area and build up of YPestis in the rat population and then outbreak of the plague in the human population.

it is postulated that the depopulation caused by the Plague of Justian resulted in virtual empting of the Balkans assisting the Slavic entry and North Italy to the Lombards.
 
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At Each Kilometer

Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
3,937
Bulgaria
@peccavi Indeed. As far as i know the plague of Justinian is first historically recorded epidemic of Y-pestis, whilst the earlier Antonine and Cyprian 'plagues' are kinda mysterious pandemics, i read some assertions that these two were outbreaks of smallpox and/or measles, both highly contagious infectious diseases caused by viruses and OP asked specifically about the plague.
 

Isleifson

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,023
Lorraine tudesque
Like most of our problems, the Black death is a result of the Neolithic revolution.
 
Mar 2015
1,450
Yorkshire
Like most of our problems, the Black death is a result of the Neolithic revolution.
If these guys are right, the entry into Europe occurs with the Copper Age and we should be blaming the Indo-Europeans horse riders and not the Middle East Neothilic farmer for this particular disease.

The authors of the report which I summarise below show that the YPestis grand parent was a tuberculosis bacterium which mutated and continues to mutate:

From our findings, we conclude that the ancestor of extant Y. pestis strains was present by the end of the 4th millennium BC and was widely spread across Eurasia from at least the early 3rd millennium BC. The occurrence of plague in the Bronze Age Eurasian individuals we sampled (7 of 101) indicates that plague infections were common at least 3,000 years earlier than recorded historically. However, based on the absence of crucial virulence genes, unlike the later Y. pestis strains that were responsible for the first to third pandemics, these ancient ancestral Y. pestis strains likely did not have the ability to cause bubonic plague, only pneumonic and septicemic plague.

These early plagues may have been responsible for the suggested population declines in the late 4th millennium BC and the early 3rd millennium BC (Hinz et al., 2012, Shennan et al., 2013).
It has recently been demonstrated by ancient genomics that the Bronze Age in Europe and Asia was characterized by large-scale population movements, admixture, and replacements (Allentoft et al., 2015, Haak et al., 2015), which accompanied profound and archaeologically well-described social and economic changes (Anthony, 2007, Kristiansen and Larsson, 2005).

In light of our findings, it is plausible that plague outbreaks could have facilitated—or have been facilitated by—these highly dynamic demographic events. However, our data suggest that Y. pestis did not fully adapt as a flea-borne mammalian pathogen until the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, which precipitated the historically recorded plagues.