The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 05 January 2010]

Review: Justinian’s Flea

This book provides an interesting idea about the final nail in the coffin for the Roman Empire.
Justinian's Flea Cover
Justinian’s Flea cover.
Click for larger version.

Justinian’s Flea posits the idea that the Black Plague was a key factor in the final downfall of the Roman Empire, weakening it enough that external forces could tear it down.

Which is an intriguing idea, if one that is hard to prove or disprove after all this time and with the lack of historical data.

What William Rosen has really created with his book is a kitchen sink of the history of Byzantium, which despite being a bit less cool than the Roman Empire when it was based in Rome itself, was a fascinating place at a very interesting point in history, and Rosen does a good job of painting a picture of how Byzantium laid the underpinnings for what would become modern Europe.

Justinian’s Flea is a frustrating book to read in that Rosen has dug up so many facts about the era and especially about the rule of Justinian the Great that he has a hard time maintaining focus—he has so much he wants to share that the book meanders too much and throws way too many people and near-indistinguishable barbarian tribes into the mix. A lot of times reading it I wanted to stop and focus in on a particular event, like Belisarius’s siege of Rome or the building of the Hagia Sophia, only to be thrown into the next thing.

The pacing is a bit odd, too, in that the Black Plague doesn’t show up till the end of the book, almost like an afterthought in the book it is purportedly about.

So, the book has problems, but as a primer on the end of Byzantium that leads the reader to discover areas of interest, Justinian’s Flea does a fine job.


If you buy Justinian’s Flea at Amazon I get a tiny cut, which would be appreciated.

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