It was recently revealed that the Justinianic Plague, which hit Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, was caused by the same bacterium that led to the Bubonic plague.
The matter of what caused the Justinianic Plague has been something of much debate, as has how great a role the plague played in halting the rebound of the Roman (i.e. Byzantine) empire. Accordingly, the findings are an important step in answering these questions, even though they may not be finally conclusive.
"An increasing number of scholars are thinking that the Justinianic Pandemic was a crucial factor in the demographic and economic collapse of the late Roman economy, the final stage in the fall of the Roman Empire..." Dr. Michael McCormick, Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, told iTech Post. "This new study seems to mark an important step forward in the identification of the pathogen of what is increasingly recognized as one the most devastating pandemics in human history."
The Justinianic Plague forced the empire to refocus its efforts away from a campaign to retake Europe from barbarian tribes. This led to what could have been a very different fate for the Byzantine empire.
"Had there been no plague it is possible that Justinian's gains would have remained permanent and perhaps even formed the basis for further reconquest," Dr. Thomas Madden, Director for the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, said. "Had that occurred we would live in a very different world today."
In addition, the methods the researchers used to come to their conclusions is revelatory of current trends in historic discovery.
"We are entering an amazing age of scientific study of the human past, when the methods of sciences will increasingly illuminate great questions that historians and archaeologists have been wrestling with for decades, questions in which ancient pathogens, paleoclimate records of changing environmental conditions, and human genomic archaeology (e.g.., modern genetic evidence of ancient migrations) will play a privileged role," McCormick said.
We recently saw DNA samples reveal significant information regarding the Minoan civilization. So, while the new revelations regarding the Justinianic Plague are remarkable, they are also part of a larger trend.