Maybe the First Plague Wasn’t That Bad, Say Researchers

Written by
The Office of Communications, Princeton University
Dec. 3, 2019

The international team of scholars found that the rumors of the plague’s effects may have been greatly exaggerated. Led by researchers at Princeton’s Climate Change and History Research Initiative (CCHRI) and the University of Maryland’s National-Socio Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), the team examined diverse datasets from a wide range of fields but found no concrete effects of the plague. Their paper appears in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

“Our article is the first time such a large body of novel interdisciplinary evidence has been investigated in this context,” said lead author Lee Mordechai, co-lead of CCHRI and a 2017 Ph.D. graduate of Princeton’s Department of History. “If this plague was a key moment in human history that killed between a third and half the population of the Mediterranean world in just a few years, as is often claimed, we should have evidence for it, but our survey of datasets found none.”

Others involved in the paper affiliated with the History Department include Merle Eisenberg, a 2018 Ph.D. alumnus and a member of the CCHRI, and Janet Kay, a lecturer in the Humanities Council and history and the CSLA-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in Late Antiquity in the Society of Fellows at Princeton.

The Justinianic Plague: An inconsequential pandemic?” by Lee Mordechai, Merle Eisenberg, Timothy P. Newfield, Adam Izdebski, Janet Kay and Hendrik Poinar appears in the Dec. 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1903797116).

Read the full article at News at Princeton.