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Justinians Flea Plague Empire & the Birt (edition 2007)

by William Rosen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
579None16,980 (3.63)79
EleBoo's review
Book Review of Justinian’s Flea
By Elena Booze
Justinian’s Flea is about the bubonic plague, and the fall of Rome. It is also about the birth of Europe and the emperor of Rome, Justinian.
Justinian’s Flea includes the enemies of Rome, and their impact on the country. Also, it includes the history of Justinian, and how he became emperor. Justinian first was a peasant from the Balkan town of Tuaresium. He eventually became a general, then emperor. His wife, Theodora, was a prostitute until her marriage with Justinian. The bubonic plague caused terrible damage to Rome, and was spread by fleas. Rome was eventually torn apart from the inside-out, and it was too weak to defend against the Huns, Goths or Visigoths.
I thought that Justinian’s Flea was very interesting, however, worded in a way that made it slow to read. I liked how it included many interesting details, like how Theodora was the daughter of a bear-keeper, and had her first child at the age of sixteen. I thought that this information made the book interesting, and made me feel that the author had done very, very extensive research. I think that Justinian’s Flea went on a little too long with all of the detail, though. Information about the actual plague was not provided until past half of the book. I enjoyed reading this book, but I think that it was written for mainly adults, and requires patience to finish.
1 vote EleBoo | Apr 1, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 15 of 15
One of the best books on the subject. Well worth a read. ( )
  iamamro | Oct 16, 2013 |
Interesting that I had never heard of Belisaurus, Khosro the great, Narses and the like, even though I'm an eager reader of history. This book is more about history than the plague, which, to be frank, it doesn't spend a lot of time on. Not that this is a bad thing because, after all, who wants to read about rats, and people developing huge black bubos? ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jun 4, 2013 |
Well written, well researched and informative. If you are just looking for a book about the plague you will get a lot more in thus book - the history of Justinian and how he became emperor; the various people who were migrating into the fractured Roman Empire; how and why the plague became an epidemic and the history of the time of various other empires, Persian and Chinese. This is a wide ranging variety of subjects but Rosen's talent means that all the pieces do come together. Definitely gave me a picture of the Sixth Century world. ( )
1 vote calm | Dec 4, 2012 |
Av very well written and informative book. I enjoyed the history of the Roman Empire quite a bit. However at times I thought the book to be a bit dry and tedious. ( )
  Blooshirt | Oct 21, 2012 |
Book Review of Justinian’s Flea
By Elena Booze
Justinian’s Flea is about the bubonic plague, and the fall of Rome. It is also about the birth of Europe and the emperor of Rome, Justinian.
Justinian’s Flea includes the enemies of Rome, and their impact on the country. Also, it includes the history of Justinian, and how he became emperor. Justinian first was a peasant from the Balkan town of Tuaresium. He eventually became a general, then emperor. His wife, Theodora, was a prostitute until her marriage with Justinian. The bubonic plague caused terrible damage to Rome, and was spread by fleas. Rome was eventually torn apart from the inside-out, and it was too weak to defend against the Huns, Goths or Visigoths.
I thought that Justinian’s Flea was very interesting, however, worded in a way that made it slow to read. I liked how it included many interesting details, like how Theodora was the daughter of a bear-keeper, and had her first child at the age of sixteen. I thought that this information made the book interesting, and made me feel that the author had done very, very extensive research. I think that Justinian’s Flea went on a little too long with all of the detail, though. Information about the actual plague was not provided until past half of the book. I enjoyed reading this book, but I think that it was written for mainly adults, and requires patience to finish.
1 vote EleBoo | Apr 1, 2012 |
Very interesting but sometimes there was too much information. I did not need to know all the detail of the building of the Hagia Sophia. I really enjoyed the chapters on Sassanid Persia and China and how they interacted with the Roman Empire. And it's alway fun to hear about barbarians. I always wondered how the Franks came out on top in Europe and Rosen tries to answer the question. ( )
  atiara | Mar 8, 2010 |
A very detailed and well researched book about what is one of the first major pandemics, the black plague epidemic of the late Roman Empire. My primary criticism is that for a book on plague, it takes an awful long time to get to the whole plague thing -- over halfway through the book, in fact. The non-plague bits are an interesting enough review of late Roman imperial history and bacteriology, but I frankly could have used more of an ethnographic and sociological study of the plague and its impacts; this is more a biography of Justinian. ( )
  Meggo | Dec 31, 2009 |
When boats arrived in Constantinople from Egypt in 541 AD, they weren’t carrying just exotic foods and trinkets. Rats and fleas from the lower holds scrambled into the new landscape, and with them came the plague. The disease swept through port cities, leaving corpses riddled with black buboes in its wake. At its peak, ten thousand people a day died in Constantinople. William Rosen’s Justinian’s Flea takes a look at the damage this microscopic agent caused to humans and how that affected history for centuries to come.

William Rosen is a great editor in his own right, but when he writes, his real talent comes out. Deftly combining history, medicine, sociology, and religion, Rosen posits that a major factor in the demise of the Roman Empire was the convergence between the first outbreak of bubonic plague and the weakened state of the Roman army. The book starts off slow, with a complete history of the empire between Diocletian and Justinian, then gets really good with an in-depth analysis of the evolution of the plague virus. A slowish but ultimately rewarding read. ( )
  NielsenGW | Aug 2, 2009 |
This book is extremely well-written, and the breadth of knowledge contained in it is simply amazing. Rosen has brought together the culture of the day, conquests, military exploits, architecture, political intrigue, even so far as explaining why the entomology of different species of flea was more (or less) fortuitous in spreading the plague so quickly, and over such a wide area.

If more authors wrote as engagingly as Rosen, history classes across the US would be filled to overflowing. ( )
  Halieus | Jul 9, 2009 |
Justinian's Flea is a great account of the Mediterranean region in the sixth century. Its focal point is the plague that hit the region during the reign of Justinian, which is really pretty obvious now that I think of it. But the book is an amazing look at several regional histories, science, epidemiology and the like. Rosen gives a gripping account of the main events and people of the era.

The historical sections are a pretty straightforward account of the leading events and figures, but Rosen does a great job stringing together many different narrative strands into a compelling story. The sections on the plague were, for me at least, terra incognita. The author goes pretty deep into the science here and while parts of it were over my humanities major head, I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Rosen concludes the book with an account of the rise of Islam. This was, for me, the main point of the book. Without Justinian's flea, and the resultant plagues that hit the Persian and Byzantine worlds, the entire Islamic empire would have been implausible. I'm not sure this qualifies as a random event, but it does make the contrast between historical determinism and human agency blurry for me. ( )
  dmcolon | Mar 23, 2009 |
I started reading this book expecting a synthesis across disciplines - roman history, epidemiology, some ecology, etc. This book was not that. It turns out that the ecology of the rat is not as interesting as I expected. Much too much time was spent going through Roman emperor after Roman emperor - which is entirely tedious, difficult to keep straight, and I felt there was a bit of an expectation of assumed background, which I honestly didn't have. Overall, read the introduction, and then skip the rest. ( )
  bfertig | Feb 24, 2009 |
It's been several years since I have read nonfiction about the Roman empire and even longer since I have read anything about Rome's eastern empire and Constantinople. I picked up Justinian's Flea by William Rosen solely focused on the fact that Rosen discusses the first appearance of the bubonic plague, a disease that later became known in the 14th century as The Black Death and The Great Mortality. What a pleasant surprise to discover that Justinian's Flea not only discusses the plague's first appearance and its impact on Justinian The Great's empire, but also about late antiquity as a whole. I consider myself a history buff. I love ancient history and medieval history and American and British history. However, I realized while reading Justinian's Flea that my knowledge about the Roman empire (Constantinople) during the 6th century is sketchy. And as I continued to read Rosen's book, I wondered why I had this gaping hole in knowledge about the eastern Roman empire.

Looking back on my studies in school from elementary on up to college, my education concerning world history overall seems thorough (for the sake of argument.) My teachers and professors were excellent about informing me about the Roman empire before it split into its East and West components. But when it came time to study Rome's split, the focus (at least to my recollection) remained mostly on the Western half of the empire with a smattering of the East. Why did my teachers seem to provide only bare bones history of Constantinople? My theory boils down to the following:

1. A lack of interest on my part. Perhaps I did not pay attention to this portion of class because at the time, I was not interested in the eastern Roman empire. Maybe I was tired of learning about the Roman empire and I wanted to learn something new so I tuned out.
2. A bias on the part of the educational system (including the college level) to focusing mostly on Western civilization.
3. A bias on my part for historical knowledge about Western civilization and ignoring the East.

Well, it's only a theory. And yet, Justinian's Flea filled in some big gaps that I had about the eastern Roman empire: important generals whom I had never heard about, the emperor Justinian himself and the rise of the Persian empire during this time period (specifically Khusro I and Khusro II,) Rome's battle with the Persian empire over the Silk Road, and the invading Arab armies that would soon dominate the Mediterranean area.

You might think that Justinian's Flea would be an unwieldy book given how much ground Rosen covers--everything from architecture to biology and chemistry to military strategy and diplomacy. But it's not. At 325 pages (not including notes, index, and bibliography) Rosen packs a lot of detail into this small, accessible book. Throughout Justinian's Flea, his focus remains on the impact that the bubonic plague wrought on every aspect of 6th century civilization. In the end, Rome's final fall and the beginning of medieval Europe occurred because of a tiny and deadly bacteria riding in the stomach of a flea--a flea that rode on the back of a black rat, and a black rat that sailed in to port on a cargo ship carrying grain and valued items. It's always the little things that seem to have the greatest impact.

Little things mean a lot. ( )
  Blacklin | Jan 11, 2009 |
History, Black Death
  musecure | Jun 8, 2008 |
An overall good story - essentially how the Plague was critical to the final collapse of the Roman Empire by weakening it at a critical moment just as it was in a resurgence (and just before the rise of Islam). There are several points in the book where the author goes off on a bit of a tangent about certain subject - to me these were both the weakest AND the strongest parts. The "tangents" on the construction of the Hagia Sophia and the complex social/environmental factors that lead to the coming of the plague where worth the price of admission all by themselves. ( )
  jlbrownn23 | Oct 23, 2007 |
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