Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Justinian's Flea

William Rosen - a former publishing executive - has written a book that is supposedly a chronicle of how an outbreak of bubonic plague created the political body of Europe. Justinian's Flea: plague, empire and the birth of Europe is actually much more than that. The first third concerns the breakdown of the monolithic Roman Empire ruled by a single powerful Emperor into multiple divisions under the influence of 'co-Caesars'. The focus of power eventually shifts from Rome to Constantinople, and the second part of the book explains the rise to power of one of the greatest rulers of all time: Justinian - the son of peasant farmers. Rosen goes in to great detail about Justinian's political brilliance, his ability to choose the right supporters, and his flair for playing the various Goth/Hun/Vandal tribes off one another. It's a well-rounded portrait of a visionary and fascinating individual. The biographical information about his wife, Theodora, is pretty juicy too. Not until the last third of the book does Rosen get to his thesis: that the decimation of Constantinople's population by bubonic plague led to the final collapse of the Roman Empire and an end to Mediterranean coast being the center of civilization. Into this power vacuum came the European tribes (with a new found political skill learned from the Romans) and the people of Arabia inspired by a new religious leader: Muhammad. This is a wonderful book, packed with information and displaying an easy, flowing narrative style. We also have this title in audio format, read by Barrett Whitener. And if you're inspired to immerse yourself more in Justinian's empire, I suggest the John the Eunuch mystery series by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer (6 volumes so far, and a lot of fun).

1 comment:

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