I’ve been thinking lately about the coincidence that consensus seems to be developing around c. 750 as the end of “Late Antiquity” is the same time frame for the end of the Plague of Justinian. Do I think this is more than a coincidence? Yes, but not really causal. By that I mean that the plague didn’t ‘end Antiquity’ but perhaps the end of the Late Antique Mediterranean focus played a significant role in ending the plague.
The Mediterranean was the focus of the plague. This hurricane of death kept its eye over the waters of the Mediterranean with ships carrying waves of plague to ports as distant as Ireland. It then moved in a slower wave over the continents (Europe and Asia and North Africa). While sporadic outbreaks occurred between waves inland each major wave of plague seems to have continued to originate in the Mediterranean over the entire 200 year period. The changes that brought about the end of late antiquity stilled the eye of the storm.
So what changed in c. 750? The pandemic clearly did not run out of microbes or non-immune hosts. It is very unlikely to have run out of vectors (probably fleas) or its likely reservoir rodents. We know of no major climatic events that would have disrupted arthropod vectors or rodent populations over such a wide territory. What piece of human behavior changed that caused the pandemic to fizzle out? Which trade networks collapsed in the mid-eighth century?
What changes would you associate with the end of Late Antiquity?