Disease and Its Consequences in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages 150800 ce

When early Christian literature is systematically scrutinized from an epidemiological perspective,30 linking disparate and sometimes disguised mentions of disease (disguised in the sense that an epidemic may be represented in one or more texts by accounts of miraculous cures or brief suggestive comments such as "fevers laid waste the province"), it becomes apparent that infectious diseases played a dynamic role in the synchronous fall of the Roman Empire and rise of Christianity.

During the second century c.e., the Roman Empire was at its height, including the size of its population, which peaked at near fifty million. By 150 c.e., the Romans had introduced or encouraged urban life throughout Europe; the city of Rome in the second century c.e. had a population of close to one million.31 Cities and towns with populations numbering in the thousands were spread throughout the Middle East, southwestern Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, and were everywhere linked by regular trade and communication, particularly along the Mediterranean, the heart of the Roman world (Figure 2).32 Ships carrying wine, grain, slaves, or other commodities sailed in three weeks' time from one end of the Mediterranean to the other.33 Road and water transport systems that were developed under Augustus during the first century b.c.e. extended

30 Here I am thinking of Biraben and Le Goff, "Plague in the Early Middle Ages"; McNeill, Plagues and Peoples.

31 George La Piana, "Foreign Groups in Rome During the First Centuries of the Empire." The Harvard Theological Review XX (1927): 183-403, 188-195.

32 Tonnes Bekker-Nielsen, The Geography of Power, Studies in the Urbanization of Roman North-West Europe (Oxford: BAR International Series, 1989), 477; J. F. Drinkwater, Roman Gaul: The Three Provinces, 58 bc-ad 260 (London: Croom Helm, 1983), 127, 239; Ray Laurence, "Afterword: Travel and Empire." In Travel and Geography in the RomanEmpire, eds. Colin Adams and Ray Laurence, pp. 167-176 (London; Routledge, 2001); Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 17-18; N. J. Pounds, An Historical Geography ofEurope (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 52-53; Benet Salway, "Travel, Itineria and Tabellaria." In Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire, eds. Colin Adams and Ray Laurence, pp. 22-66 (London; Routledge, 2001).

33 Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 11.

Distribution Middle Ages
Figure 2. Distribution of Cities in the Western Roman Empire (After Pounds, An Historical Geography of Europe, 56).

Rome's reach far to the north and west, as evidenced by the ruins of innumerable Roman villas in present-day France and Iberia, and large numbers of trade goods recovered from archaeological sites in Germany, Britain, Denmark, and the Baltic region.34

No civilization that unites tens of millions of people for the first time can escape the appearance of new forms of infectious disease. The question is not whether new diseases will arise, but whether for reasons of disease ecology and chance they will become both easily spread and lethal to their human hosts. Those who have escaped the ravages of AIDS, an apparent byproduct of our own global economy,35 are fortunate that the disease has not evolved along the lines of measles or smallpox, which literally are spread by a mere cough. (As I write, the world is holding its breath, literally and figuratively, fearing SARS, which apparently is spread by a mere cough.)

The citizens of Rome also were fortunate, at least for a while. Besides luck, the Romans' impressive feats of engineering in public sanitation and water control helped keep infectious diseases in check.36 In time, however, the Greco-Roman proclivity for urban life, rapid transportation, and, paradoxically, improvements in sanitation,37 increased the populations' vulnerability to new forms of acute and chronic infectious disease. By the late second century, cities such as Rome had become very unhealthy places to live; the same was true of distant towns in Roman Gaul.38

34 Michael McCormick, Origins Of The European Economy: Communications and Commerce, a.d. 300-900 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 53-63; E.A. Thompson, The Huns (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 191.

35 Carl Zimmer, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 216-222.

36 Angelo Celli, The History of Malaria in the Roman Campagna from Ancient Times, ed. and enlarged by Anna Celli-Fraentzel (London: J. Bale, Sons & Danielsson, 1933); J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History (New York: St. Martin's Press,

37 Exposure generally promotes resistance to what otherwise become more virulent forms of disease. See Arno G. Motulsky, "Metabolic Polymorphisms and the Role of Infectious Diseases in Human Evolution." In Human Populations, Genetic Variation, andEvolution, ed. Laura N. Morris, pp. 222-252 (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company, 197l).

38 Drinkwater, Roman Gaul, 157; Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 154-156. Note that the towns and cities of medieval Europe remained very unhealthy places well into the

The appearance and rapid diffusion of new forms of infectious disease were made possible by Rome's legions, caravans, and sailing ships, which apparently brought new and often more virulent strains of disease back from southwest Asia and beyond. Incursions of Huns and Goths from eastern Europe, beginning in the third century, contributed further to what McNeill termed a "confluence of disease pools."39 Indeed, McNeill has suggested that by the early Christian era the Roman Empire was in an epidemiological position analogous to America in 1492. Although authors such as Livy, Suetonius, and Orosius recorded serious epidemics during the pre-Christian era, few seem to compare with the series of disease episodes that began in the mid-second century c.e.4° At this time and on numerous occasions during the centuries that followed, variants of the same diseases that later devastated Amerindian populations (smallpox, measles, malaria, plague) regularly wrecked havoc on the Roman Empire.

The first such disease episode was a true pandemic of what appears to have been at least in part smallpox.41 Known as the "Antonine Plague," the disease episode affected the Roman world for close to two decades, beginning in about 165 c.e. Roman soldiers fighting at the time in Mesopotamia were stricken with smallpox and subsequently modern period. See Chris Wilson, "Understanding the Nature and Importance of Low-growth Demographic Regimes." In Asian Population History, ed. Ts'ui-jung Liu et al., pp. 24-44 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001), 32. 39 It has been argued that the initial westward migration of the Huns from Asia, which began in 8° c.e., actually was coincident with an epidemic that killed horses and cattle as well as large numbers of Huns. Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History, 135. 4° Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, 22; McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 115-116. Note that whereas Orosius's The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, which was written around 414 c.e., casts the centuries prior to the Christian era as a time of numerous "unspeakable disasters and intolerable plagues," Orosius was a Christian apologist rather than a historian; he wrote to defend Christianity from the attacks of Romans who noted a correlation between the rise of Christianity and the demise of the Roman Empire from disease and other calamities. See Roy J. Deferrari, trans., Paul Orosius: The Seven Books Of History Against The Pagans (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1964), xx. 41 Smallpox is suggested by clinical characterizations of the disease, such as Galen's references to a rash and skin ulcers, which is consistent with modern descriptions of variola major. C. W. Dixon, Smallpox (London: J. andA. Churchill Ltd, 1962); Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, 22-23; Zinsser, Rats, Lice, and History, 101.

introduced variola to Syria and then Italy.42 At the outset of the epidemic, two thousand people a day died in Rome. Smallpox raged on and off in the city and its environs for fifteen years,43 eventually killing the emperor, Marcus Aurelius.44 Roman doctors, annalists, and historians such as Galen, Cassius Dio, and Ammianus Marcellinus reported that the epidemic spread throughout Europe ("from the frontiers of the Persians to the Rhine and Gaul"), contributing to widespread famine.45

It has been conservatively estimated that during the first three years of the pandemic, between 3.5 million and 5 million people died;46 ten million people, about 8 percent of the population of Europe, died before smallpox at last subsided in 190 c.e.47

The Antonine Plague was perhaps the most devastating disease episode in late antiquity. It was not, however, the last time that the Roman world experienced smallpox. The historical record mentions or alludes to what appear to have been frequent outbreaks of variola during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.48 Eusebius, for instance, mentions an epidemic in 312-313 c.e. whose clinical symptoms (e.g., malignant pustules; blindness) are highly suggestive of smallpox;

42 J. F. Gilliam, "The Plague under Marcus Aurelius." American Journal of Philology 82 (1961): 225-251.

43 The epidemic apparently began in Smyrna in 165 c.e. and reached Rome the following year; after subsiding in 180 c.e., it reappeared in Rome in 189 c.e. Richard Duncan-Jones, Structure andScalein the Roman Economy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 72; Zinsser, Rats, Lice, and History, 136.

44 Donald R. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 22-23.

45 Roger S. Bagnall and Bruce W. Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 174; A. E. Boak, Manpower Shortage and the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1955), 109-110; Malcolm Todd, "Famosa Pestis," 323.

46 More liberal estimates are that 10 percent of the empire's population was destroyed; large cities and military camps were particularly hard-hit and may have lost 20 percent of their population. Bagnall and Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt, 174.

47 R. J. Littman and M. L. Littman, "Galen and the Antonine Plague." American Journal of Philology 94 (1973): 243-255, 254-255.

48 Adolf Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, trans. by D. M. Grace (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, i98i[i905]), 171-173; Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, 23-24, 230.

the epidemic devastated the Middle East and the southern part of Asia Minor:

It was the winter season, and usual rains and showers were withholding their normal downpour, when without warning famine struck, followed by pestilence and an outbreak of a different disease - a malignant pustule, which because of its fiery appearance was known as a carbuncle. This spread over the entire body, causing great danger to the sufferers; but the eyes were the chief target for attack, and hundreds of men, women, and children lost their sight through it In the Armenian war the emperor [Maximinus Daia] was worn out as completely as his legions: the rest of the people in the cities under his rule were so horribly wasted by famine and pestilence that a single measure of wheat fetched 2,500 Attic drachmas. Hundreds were dying in the cities, still more in the country villages, so that the rural registers which once contained so many names now suffered almost complete obliteration; for at one stroke food shortage and epidemic disease destroyed nearly all the inhabitants.49

The destruction wrought by smallpox appears to have been equaled by epidemics of measles, including a pandemic in 251 c.e., which once again was said to have devastated parts of the Roman Empire. At the height of the pandemic, five thousand people a day died in Rome.50 How many died elsewhere is unknown. As Drinkwater51 has pointed out, the history of the Roman world during the third century c.e. is extremely difficult to reconstruct, owing to a paucity of literary texts. Still, historians such as Zosimus wrote of several devastating plagues, including one in 251 c.e. that was unprecedented: "With war thus pressing heavily on the empire from all sides, a plague afflicted cities and villages and destroyed whatever was left of mankind; no plague in previous times wrought such destruction of human life."52

49 G. A. Williamson, trans. Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Dorset Press, 1984), 365-366.

50 Boak, Manpower Shortage, 26, 111.

51 The Gallic Empire (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH, 1987) 45.

52 Ronald T. Ridley, trans. and ed., Zosimus, New History (Sydney: Austalian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982), 8, 12, 14.

The pandemic of 251 c.e. is known as the "plague of Cyprian," owing to the saint's detailed account of the disease episode in his De Mortal-itate.53 As McNeill suggests, the Cyprian and earlier Antonine Plague were co-conspirators in the devolution of the Roman Empire:

What seems to have occurred in the Mediterranean lands was that a tolerable macroparasitic system - the imperial armies and bureaucracy of the first century a.d. superimposed upon a diverse muster of local landlords who generally aspired to an urban, Greco-Roman style of life - became unbearably top-heavy after the first disastrous ravages of epidemic disease hit home in the second and third centuries. Thereafter the macroparasitic elements in Roman society became agents of further destruction to population and production, and the resultant disorders, famines, migrations, concentrations of human flotsam and jetsam, in turn, created fresh opportunities for epidemic diseases to diminish population still more.54

The Roman Empire's failure to rebound from successive epidemics of smallpox and measles as well as other calamities (e.g., wars, invasions) is partially explained by chronic infectious diseases, particularly malaria (Plasmodium vivax). Human populations can relatively quickly replace numerical losses from war or epidemics, even when acute infectious diseases claim a third or more of a population. However, it is very difficult to recoup population losses when they occur in the context of endemic, chronic infectious diseases such as malaria. Malaria, once it becomes endemic, kills large numbers of infants and leaves those who survive with anemia and poor general health.55

During the pre-Christian era, the Romans worshipped a goddess of fevers (DeaFebris) who seemingly kept malaria at bay in southern Italy.56

53 Daniel D. Sullivan, The Life of the North Africans as Revealed in the Works of Saint Cyprian (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1933); Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History, 138-141.

54 McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 120.

55 Mark F. Boyd, "Epidemiology of Malaria: Factors Related to the Intermediate Host." In Malariology, Vol. I, ed. Mark F. Boyd, pp. 551 -607 (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1949), 566; Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History, 76; Daniel Gade, Nature and Culture in the Andes (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 75-101; Robert Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (London: Duckworth, 1991), 273.

56 Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History, 90.

However, by the Christian era, Rome had become highly malarious.57 Writers such as Celsus make clear that malaria became an even greater problem during the latter part of the second century.58 The third and fourth centuries were no better; Constantine the Great (337 c.e.) and his son Constantius (363 c.e.) are two of many who apparently succumbed to malaria.59 Alaric (c. 370-419 c.e.) - the first of the "barbarians" to sack Rome - apparently died from malaria, as did many subsequent Vandals and Goths.60

As the fourth century unfolded and Roman infrastructure and water control devices deteriorated, the incidence of malaria increased dramatically.61 Writing in circa 359 c.e., the historian Ammianus Marcellinus outlined what became a centuries-old pattern of malaria in Rome and southern Italy:

Now the first kind of plague is called endemic, and causes those who live in places that are too dry to be cut off by frequent fevers. The second is epidemic, which breaks out at certain seasons of the year, dimming the sight of the eyes and causing a dangerous flow of moisture. The third is loemodes [pestilential], which is also periodic, but deadly from its winged speed.62

Consistent with Marcellinus's observation, the exceptionally dry hills to the south of Rome and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily historically had the highest incidence of malaria.63 (It is a misconception that malaria occurred only in lowlands or in southern Europe.)

57 George W. Bryun, An Illustrated History of Malaria (New York: Parthenon Publishing Group, 1999), 7.

58 Sallares, Ecology of the Ancient Greek World, 278.

59 Ammianus Marcellinus's account of Constantius's demise is highly suggestive of malaria, inasmuch as Constantius came down with a slight fever that grew increasingly worse: "Gradually the extreme heat of the fever so inflamed his veins that his body could not even be touched, since it burned like a furnace;... Then the death-rattle began and he was silent, and after a long struggle gave up the ghost." Rolfe, Ammianus Marcellinus, II, 171; see also Bryun, Illustrated History ofMalaria, 7.

60 Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History, 91-92, 94.

61 Celli, History of Malaria; Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History, 84; McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, 38-41; L.W. Hackett, Malaria in Europe (London: Oxford University Press, 1937), 7.

62 Rolfe, Ammianus Marcellinus,!, 489. 63 Hackett, Malaria in Europe, 11.

In the fourth century, if not sooner, malaria escaped from the narrow bounds within which it had been confined by drainage, sanitation, and agriculture.64 Malaria became widespread in Europe, apparently in part because of the abandonment of villas and towns.65 The corresponding devolution of agriculture and animal husbandry encouraged mosquitoes, in general, and certain subspecies of anopheline mosquitoes,66 which fueled epidemics of malaria among humans.67 During the fifth and sixth centuries, when many previously abandoned farms or secondary forests were resettled by monks and internal migrants,68 malaria was further encouraged.69 Thus, medieval texts such as the Life of the Fathers, written by Gregory of Tours (592 c.e.), and The Life of Saint Columban (642 c.e.) often speak of individuals incapacitated by fever:

Today many people who are sunk in melancholy obtain at his tomb [Bishop Quintianus] relief from their quartan fever and from their illness. (Life of the Fathers)70

...he began to ask earnestly that the holy man should pray to God on behalf of his wife, who for a whole year had been burning with so violent a fever that it now seemed impossible that she could be restored to health. (Life of St. Columban)71

Fevers of one kind or another - reflecting malaria as well as other infectious diseases - abound in literature from late antiquity and the

64 Cloudsley-Thompson, Insects and History, 91.

65 Boak, Manpower Shortage, 127; J. C. Russell, "Late Ancient and Medieval Population." Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Volume 48, Part 3 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1958), 39-40.

66 Europe historically has been home to a number of species of anopheline mosquito that evolved to survive the coldest winters (mostly by moving indoors); the mosquitoes also have remarkable flight ranges (three to ten miles). See Hackett, Malaria in Europe, 206-207.

67 Bryun, Illustrated History of Malaria, 21-22: W. H. S. Jones, Malaria: A Neglected Factor in the History of Greece and Rome (Cambridge, UK: Bowes & Bowes, 1907), 75.

68 J. N. Hillgarth, Christianity and Paganism, 350-750 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 21-22.

69 Hackett, Malaria in Europe, 90, 225.

70 Edward James, trans., Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1991), 27.

71 Dana C. Munro, trans., Life of St. Columban by the Monk Jonas (Felinfach: Llanerch Publishers, 1993), 24.

early Middle Ages. During the sixth century c.e., there appeared a new contributor to these fevers: plague. What came to be known as the Justinian plague raged in Mediterranean Europe in 542-543 c.e. Pro-copius reported that the epidemic persisted for four months in Constantinople and that at the height of the epidemic ten thousand people died per day.72 For the next two hundred years,73 the plague reached epidemic proportions every nine to twelve years, affecting primarily Mediterranean Europe, Spain, Gaul, and Italy. On the basis of miracles recorded in hagiographic texts, Biraben and Le Goff74 believe the plague spread as far north as the Loire, Marne, and Rhine rivers, and the Alps. One should not assume from this statement that northern Europe escaped the plague entirely or did not suffer from epidemic disease. Anglo-Saxon records mention at least forty-nine disease episodes or epidemics between 526 and 1087 c.e.75

The consequences of plague were everywhere severe, particularly when the disease occurred with other maladies. In 570 c.e., the plague as well as smallpox affected much of continental Europe.76 Gregory of Tours has a telling description of its impact:

At the coming of the disaster itself, there was made much slaughter of the people through all the region, that the legions of men who fell there might not even be numbered. When coffins and planks failed, ten dead or more were buried in a common pit. In the single church of Saint Peter there were counted on a certain Sunday three hundred corpses.77

The Demographic Consequences of Disease

What were the consequences of the Antonine, Cyprian, and Justinian plagues and endemic or near-endemic chronic diseases such as malaria?

72 McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 127.

73 For reasons that are not known, the plague appears to have disappeared around 750 c.e., not appearing again until the fourteenth century. Biraben and Le Goff, "The Plague in the Early Middle Ages," 63.

75 Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 288n; McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 128-129.

76 Biraben and Le Goff, "The Plague in the Early Middle Ages," 60.

77 Dalton, The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours, II, 143.

The question is not easily answered, given the fragmentary nature of the historical record and the fact that civil disorders, famine, and migration were coincident with many disease episodes. Although scholars may disagree over the numbers and the relative importance of disease, there is a consensus that the population of Europe experienced a significant decline or collapse in late antiquity; this collapse continued well into the Middle Ages.78 Russell79 estimated that the population of the Roman Empire declined by half during the first five centuries of the Christian era (by 543 c.e.). Biraben and Le Goff suggest that the great plagues of the sixth century, combined with smallpox, caused further catastrophic losses.80 Between 300 c.e. and 530 c.e., the population of the city of Rome declined by over 90 percent, from eight hundred thousand to sixty thousand.81

Egyptian census records, which provide some of the most credible demographic evidence from the Greco-Roman world, indicate that the chances of surviving to adulthood in the Roman Empire declined appreciably during the second and third centuries. Life expectancy at birth during this time was twenty-two to twenty-five years of age82 - about what it was during the late Neolithic.83 Detailed research on life expectations in the Danube provinces indicate that only one out of five people lived to age sixty-two.84

Epidemic disease was not the ultimate cause of Europe's population decline, inasmuch as natural selection operates on fertility not mortality.85 Repeated epidemics contributed to failed harvests and the abandonment of villas and farms, which resulted in famines and chronic

78 Boak, Manpower Shortage, 111; McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, 38-41; McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 116; Pounds, Historical Geography of Europe, 77; Wilson, "Understanding the Nature and Importance of Low-growth Demographic Regimes," 28.

79 Russell, "Late Ancient and Medieval Population."

80 Biraben and Le Goff, "Plague in the Early Middle Ages," 62.

81 McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, 66.

82 Disaggregation of the data suggests that life expectancy at birth was thirty-two for upper-class Romans and less than twenty for slaves and freedmen. Duncan-Jones, Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy, 103 .

83 Bagnall and Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt, 109-110.

84 A. R. Burn, "Hic Breve Vivitur: a Study of the Expectation of Life in the Roman Empire."

85 Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World, 222-224.

malnourishment, and in turn, declining fertility.86 There is evidence that men outnumbered women during the early Middle Ages,87 implying that young, married women often died during pregnancy and childbirth, presumably from concurrent infections. As early as the reign of Diocletian (285-305 c.e.), Roman emperors sought to address the twin problems of famine and population decline by passing laws that prohibited farm laborers from leaving their land or even entering the army.88 Archaeological evidence also attests to widespread abandonment of villas and other profound settlement system changes in Gaul beginning around the time of the Antonine Plague.89 Where town or urban life continued it was much attenuated.90 During the late third century, following the measles pandemic of 251-270 c.e., Roman defenses against barbarian incursions became tenuous and many towns drastically reduced the area contained within newly fortified walls.91 It is perhaps a testament to the consequences of "crowd infections" that many of these newly fortified towns, after a brief revival, subsequently became impoverished and perished.92 Boak noted that by the early fifth century the area of untilled

86 Pierre Richie, Daily Life In The World Of Charlemagne, trans. Jo Ann McNamara (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978H973]), 47-49. One can imagine any number of scenarios whereby fertility was undermined. Chronic malnourishment, for instance, would have meant women lacked sufficient body fat for ovulation and lactation.

87 Joseph Lynch, The Medieval Church (New York: Longman, 1992), 213.

88 Dom John Chapman, Saint Benedict and theSixth Century (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929), 155; McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 118; Pounds, Historical Geography ofEurope, 77.

89 William E. Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 203-206; C. R. Whittaker, Frontiers ofthe Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 232.

90 Pounds, Historical Geography ofEurope, 70.

91 Christopher Pickles, Texts and Monuments: A Study of Ten Anglo-Saxon Churches of the Pre-Viking Period (Oxford, UK: Archaeopress, 1999), 102; Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 207-208. Note that archaeological research in northern France, Belgium, and the left bank of the German Rhineland indicate that at least some settlements were being abandoned even before the destructive invasions of the late third century. Although Whittaker has speculated that this abandonment may have been for economic reasons, epidemic disease also may have played a part. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 211.

92 Drinkwater, Roman Gaul, 157-158; Guy Halsall, "Social Identities and Social Relationships in Early Merovingian Gaul." In Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: AnEthnographic Perspective, ed. Ian Wood, pp. 141-165 (Rochester, NY: Boydell land had reached astonishing proportions, and many of the cities of the Roman Empire had become ghost towns.93 As noted, by the turn of the sixth century, the population of the city of Rome had plummeted to around sixty thousand (down from over a million in the late second century and perhaps eight hundred thousand at the outset of the fourth century c.e.).

What is especially striking about the population collapse in Western Europe during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages is that it seems not to have been slowed by the steady and sometimes rapid in-migration of large numbers of peoples from eastern and central Europe (Figure 3). The Visigoths and Ostrogoths, who were driven across the Danube by the Huns in 376 c.e., are thought to have numbered at least one hundred thousand.94 In 406-407 c.e., tens of thousands of Vandals, Alans, and Sueves crossed the Rhine. In 454 c.e., the collapse of Attila's empire sent thousands more "barbarians" streaming across the Danubian frontier.95 Numerically speaking, these three major incursions represent the tip of the iceberg, as most scholars today acknowledge that the majority of Goths and other "barbarians" crossed the frontier into the Roman Empire in small bands.96 In this regard, terms like Goths, Franks, and Alamanni are generic terms that elide the multiple and often separate identities of barbarian invaders. The Gothic migration in 376 c.e., for instance, was led by at least seven or eight different chieftains who often fought with each other.97

Press, 1998), 146; Colin Haselgrove, "Roman Impact on Rural Settlement and Society in Southern Picardy." In From the Sword to the Plough: Three Studies on the Earliest Romanisation of Northern Gaul, ed. N. Roymans, pp. 127-189 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996), 166-168; Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 211.

93 Manpower Shortage, 127.

94 P.J. Heather, Goths and Romans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 327.

95 E. A. Thompson, Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 15-19.

96 Patrick Geary, "Barbarians and Ethnicity." In Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowerstock, P. Brown, and O. Grabar, pp. 107-130 (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1999); Brent Shaw, "War and Violence." In Late Antiquity, A Guide to the Postclassical World, pp. 130-170; Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 209.

97 Hans J. Hummer, "Franks and Alamanni: A Discontinuous Ethnogenesis." In Franks andAlamanni in the Merovingian Period An Ethnographic Perspective, ed. Ian Wood, pp. 921 (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 1998); Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 212-213.

Invasions/Migrations of the Fifth & Sixth Centuries

- Visigoths


Franks & Burgundians

Angles, Saxons & Jutes


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