By Johannes Preiser-Kapeller
Working Paper “Historical Dynamics of Byzantium” 4 (October 2010)
Excerpt: …The same plague epidemic that afflicted China finally also reached Europe via the trade route from Central Asia to the Crimea and to Constantinople, where the Black Death first appeared in 1347; from there it reached all regions connected by the international commercial network from Scandinavia to Egypt within the next years, killing between 30 and 60 % of the population.
Crisis became catastrophe of almost unprecedented scale, dwarfing the bankrupt of kings and their financiers. The long term consequences of these “cataclysmic” events of the mid-14th century influenced the next centuries.8 One of the outcomes of these decades of crisis was the reduction of the medieval Roman Empire in the East, which modern historiography calls the Byzantine one, to a petty state which was at the mercy of stronger political and economic forces. This was not the first severe crisis Byzantium had to endure, but this one proved to be fatal; therefore, it should be analysed in depth on the following page, but not without setting it in the context of previous crises of the Byzantine polity.