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Justinianic Plague in Roman Empire likely didn’t kill millions: study

The death toll of the first plague pandemic, credited with wiping out tens of millions of people in the late Roman Empire, may have been exaggerated in past historical accounts, new research suggests.

Anywhere from 25 to 60% of the estimated population is said to have been wiped out by the Justinianic Plague from 541 to 750 CE, but a comprehensive analysis of diverse data sets found little evidence that there was widespread death.

“We’re not saying there was no plague. … It devastated families, ripped apart villages and towns,” said study author Merle Eisenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland’s National-Socio Environmental Synthesis Center. “What we are saying is we simply couldn’t find demographic, economic and social effects (of a mass death).”

Existing research attributes the Justinianic Plague as leading to major social and economic changes in Europe at the time, including the end of the late Roman Empire, the researchers say.

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