Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Home | Prev | Next | Contents

153, 154,) Evagrius, (l. iv. c. 29,) Paul Diaconus, (l. ii. c.

  1. p. 776, 777,) Gregory of Tours, (tom. ii. l. iv. c. 5, p 205,) who styles it Lues Inguinaria, and the Chronicles of Victor Tunnunensis, (p. 9, in Thesaur. Temporum,) of Marcellinus, (p. 54,) and of Theophanes, (p. 153.)]

[Footnote 89: Dr. Friend (Hist. Medicin. in Opp. p. 416 - 420, Lond. 1733) is satisfied that Procopius must have studied physic, from his knowledge and use of the technical words. Yet many words that are now scientific were common and popular in the Greek idiom.]

[Footnote 90: See Thucydides, l. ii. c. 47 - 54, p. 127 - 133, edit. Duker, and the poetical description of the same plague by Lucretius. (l. vi. 1136 - 1284.) I was indebted to Dr. Hunter for an elaborate commentary on this part of Thucydides, a quarto of 600 pages, (Venet. 1603, apud Juntas,) which was pronounced in St. Mark's Library by Fabius Paullinus Utinensis, a physician and philosopher.]

[Footnote 91: Thucydides (c. 51) affirms, that the infection could only be once taken; but Evagrius, who had family experience of the plague, observes, that some persons, who had escaped the first, sunk under the second attack; and this repetition is confirmed by Fabius Paullinus, (p. 588.) I observe, that on this head physicians are divided; and the nature and operation of the disease may not always be similar.]

[Footnote 92: It was thus that Socrates had been saved by his temperance, in the plague of Athens, (Aul. Gellius, Noct. Attic.

  1. l.) Dr. Mead accounts for the peculiar salubrity of religious houses, by the two advantages of seclusion and abstinence, (p. 18, 19.)]

Contagion is the inseparable symptom of the plague; which,

by mutual respiration, is transfused from the infected persons to the lungs and stomach of those who approach them. While philosophers believe and tremble, it is singular, that the existence of a real danger should have been denied by a people most prone to vain and imaginary terrors. ^93 Yet the fellow-citizens of Procopius were satisfied, by some short and partial experience, that the infection could not be gained by the closest conversation: ^94 and this persuasion might support the assiduity of friends or physicians in the care of the sick, whom inhuman prudence would have condemned to solitude and despair. But the fatal security, like the predestination of the Turks, must have aided the progress of the contagion; and those salutary precautions to which Europe is indebted for her safety, were unknown to the government of Justinian. No restraints were imposed on the free and frequent intercourse of the Roman provinces: from Persia to France, the nations were mingled and infected by wars and emigrations; and the pestilential odor which lurks for years in a bale of cotton was imported, by the abuse of trade, into the most distant regions. The mode of its propagation is explained by the remark of Procopius himself, that it always spread from the sea-coast to the inland country: the most sequestered islands and mountains were successively visited; the places which had escaped the fury of its first passage were alone exposed to the contagion of the ensuing year. The winds might diffuse that subtile venom; but unless the atmosphere be previously disposed for its reception, the plague would soon expire in the cold or temperate climates of the earth. Such was the universal corruption of the air, that the pestilence which burst forth in the fifteenth year of Justinian was not checked or alleviated by any difference of the seasons. In time, its first malignity was abated and dispersed; the disease alternately languished and revived; but it was not till the end of a calamitous period of fifty-two years, that mankind recovered their health, or the air resumed its pure and salubrious quality.

No facts have been preserved to sustain an account, or even a conjecture, of the numbers that perished in this extraordinary mortality. I only find, that during three months, five, and at length ten, thousand persons died each day at Constantinople; that many cities of the East were left vacant, and that in several districts of Italy the harvest and the vintage withered on the ground. The triple scourge of war, pestilence, and famine, afflicted the subjects of Justinian; and his reign is disgraced by the visible decrease of the human species, which has never been repaired in some of the fairest countries of the globe. ^95

[Footnote 93: Mead proves that the plague is contagious from Thucydides, Lacretius, Aristotle, Galen, and common experience,

  1. 10 - 20;) and he refutes (Preface, p. 2 - 13) the contrary opinion of the French physicians who visited Marseilles in the year 1720. Yet these were the recent and enlightened spectators of a plague which, in a few months, swept away 50,000 inhabitants (sur le Peste de Marseille, Paris, 1786) of a city that, in the present hour of prosperity and trade contains no more then 90,000 souls, (Necker, sur les Finances, tom. i. p. 231.)]

[Footnote 94: The strong assertions of Procopius are overthrown by the subsequent experience of Evagrius.]

[Footnote 95: After some figures of rhetoric, the sands of the sea, &c., Procopius (Anecdot. c. 18) attempts a more definite account; that it had been exterminated under the reign of the Imperial demon. The expression is obscure in grammar and arithmetic and a literal interpretation would produce several millions of millions Alemannus (p. 80) and Cousin (tom. iii. p. 178) translate this passage, "two hundred millions:" but I am ignorant of their motives. The remaining myriad of myriads, would furnish one hundred millions, a number not wholly inadmissible.]

Prev | Next | Contents

Preface | Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6 |

Fall of Roman Empire