QUESTION: I found it really interesting how you have used the coinage to ascertain the costs of wars and to confirm the history. You have shown coins that show even the opening of the Colosseum. Are there any that record the plagues in history?
Thank you for a free and interesting site.
REPLY: Ancient coins have been used throughout the centuries. Here is a Roman Sestertius of the Roman Port of Ostia. Saint Peter’s Square is the entrance to St Peter’s. Bernini actually copies the idea of the two colonnades from Nero’s coin. Some did not understand the history and claimed that Bernini was symbolizing the embracing maternal arms of the Catholic Church. It was the Port of Ostia which was the entrance to Rome for all the ships around the world. Thus, Bernini used the Port of Ostia to symbolize that this was the entrance for all Christians from around the world.
There was a great plague that infected Rome which was brought from Asia exactly as was the case by invading armies who brought the Black Plague during the 14th century. Emperor Trajan Decius (249-251AD) and his oldest son Herennius Etruscus (251AD) were killed in battle against the invading Goths. His youngest son, Hostilian (251AD) died of the plague.
This coin was issued by Trebonianus Gallus (251-253AD) appealing to Apollo Salutaris who was believed to have been the god of healing. This was the Plague of Cyprian that infected the Roman Empire from about 249 to 262 AD. It takes its name from St. Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage. He was a historian who witnessed and described the plague. It is not known precisely what it was. But from the description, it may have been smallpox, measles, and perhaps a viral hemorrhagic fever along the lines of the Ebola virus. What we do know is that this plague weakened Rome during the 3rd century causing a widespread decline in the workforce. That resulted in food shortages for a lack of manpower to produce food for the Roman army itself. This contributed greatly to the collapse of the 3rd century.
The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180AD, was the first known pandemic impacting the Roman Empire. It was most likely contracted by soldiers who were returning from campaigns in the Near East and spread throughout the empire. Historians generally believe the plague was smallpox or possibly measles. In 169 AD, the plague most likely took the life of Roman Emperor Lucius Verus. It appeared, according to ancient sources, during the Roman siege of the Mesopotamian city of Seleucia in the winter of 165–166. According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio at the time, the disease broke out again nine years later in 189 AD. That time he said it caused up to 2,000 deaths per day in the city of Rome. The total death count at the time ranged between 5 and 10 million. About 25% of those who contracted the plague died. This amounted to about 10% of the population.
A third major plague struck during the 6th century. Research has been conducted on skeletons that have survived. It has been confirmed that DNA from Yersinia pestis—the same bacterium responsible for the Black Death—was the cause of the Justinianic plague. This plague also became a pandemic that spread throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond.
What is significant about this plague is that it took place during a Volcanic Winter. There were the great volcanic eruptions that created the extreme weather events of 535–536AD during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565AD). A mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin according to the historian Procopius of Caesarea (Procopius Caesarensis; c. 500-560 AD) who wrote: “The sun gave forth its light without brightness, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” This was a volcanic cloud that blocked the sun. But it was not a volcano in that region. The cloud’s appearance created climate cooling for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. This also sets in motion a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian (541-542AD), which swept through the Eastern Roman Empire killing 5,000 to 10,000 people per day in Constantinople.
War has been the catalyst for disease. Why? The movement of populations from one region to another has historically spread disease. Even when the Europeans visited America, they brought diseases that killed many Indians. Likewise, Europeans who had sex with Indian women brought back to Europe Syphilis which did not previously exist in Europe. The Black Plague of the 14th century was brought about by the invading Tartars in Crimea. They began catapulting dead bodies into the Italian fort which then panicked and took the disease back to Europe.
The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. Once again, it coincided with World War I.
What we must be on guard against as our World Leaders who are pushing to war once again, this one will engage the entire world. The likelihood of another major pandemic will be huge. What will it be this time? Normally, we should expect it to be the Black Plague. However, with the genetic manipulation and gain of function these people have been toying with, we cannot rule out that this time will be along the lines of COVID where the vaccines failed to prevent anyone from contracting COVID and actually made most more vulnerable in the future.