Plague of Cyprian

The Plague of Cyprian is the name given to a pandemic that afflicted the Roman Empire from about AD 249 to 262.[1][2] The plague is thought to have caused widespread manpower shortages for food production and the Roman army, severely weakening the empire during the Crisis of the Third Century.[3][4][2] Its modern name commemorates St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, an early Christian writer who witnessed and described the plague.[2] The agent of the plague is highly speculative due to sparse sourcing, but suspects include smallpox, pandemic influenza and viral hemorrhagic fever (filoviruses) like the Ebola virus.[1][2]

Contemporary accounts

In 250 to 262, at the height of the outbreak, 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Cyprian's biographer, Pontius of Carthage, wrote of the plague at Carthage:

"Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience."[5]

In Carthage, the "Decian persecution", unleashed at the onset of the plague, sought out Christian scapegoats. Fifty years later, North African convert to Christianity Arnobius defended his new religion from pagan allegations:

"that a plague was brought upon the earth after the Christian religion came into the world, and after it revealed the mysteries of hidden truth? But pestilences, say my opponents, and droughts, wars, famines, locusts, mice, and hailstones, and other hurtful things, by which the property of men is assailed, the gods bring upon us, incensed as they are by your wrong-doings and by your transgressions." [6]

Cyprian drew moralizing analogies in his sermons to the Christian community and drew a word picture of the plague's symptoms in his essay De mortalitate ("On the Plague"):

"This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith. What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!" [7]

Accounts of the plague date from about AD 249 to 262.[2] There was a latter incident from 270 involving the death of Claudius II Gothicus, though it's unknown if this was the same plague or a different outbreak.[2] The Historia Augusta says that "in the consulship of Antiochianus and Orfitus[8] the favour of heaven furthered Claudius' success. For a great multitude, the survivors of the barbarian tribes, who had gathered in Haemimontum[9] were so stricken with famine and pestilence that Claudius now scorned to conquer them further.... during this same period the Scythians attempted to plunder in Crete and Cyprus as well, but everywhere their armies were likewise stricken with pestilence and so were defeated."

Other Languages
Nederlands: Pest van Cyprianus
português: Peste de Cipriano
српски / srpski: Кипријанова куга
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Ciprijanova kuga