23. Black Rats Carried and Spread This Plague
The strain of bacterium responsible for Justinian’s Plague, Yersinia pestis, is believed to have originated near the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia, along the border between China and Kyrgyzstan. Like the Black Death, Justinian’s Plague was mainly bubonic, and felled its victims with all the bubonic plague’s horrors. The pandemic is believed to have first struck China and northern India, made its way via trade routes to the Great Lakes region of Africa, then down the Nile to Egypt.
Like the Black Death, Justinian’s Plague was transmitted by infected fleas carried by black rats. Egypt was the Byzantine Empire’s granary, and from its seaports, ships laden with grain – and also rats that hosted infected fleas – sailed across the Mediterranean. From Egypt, the plague rapidly spread to the rest of the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Constantinople, which served as both capitol and commercial center for the Byzantine Empire. From Constantinople, the pandemic rapidly spread through the rest of Europe.