- Indirect Evidence for the Social Impact of the Justinianic Pandemic: Episcopal Burial and Conciliar Legislation in Visigothic Hispania
- Journal of Late Antiquity
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2018
- pp. 193-215
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The Justinianic Plague, the first documented pandemic outbreak of the bubonic plague, struck the Mediterranean region in the 540s ce. Despite some surviving narrative accounts, however, there is little direct written evidence for its impact in much of the Mediterranean world. This is especially true for Visigothic Hispania. However, certain texts that are not explicit accounts of the plague may hint at its impact. One such text is the fourth canon of the Council of Valencia, held in 546. This canon reflects episcopal concerns about what to do when a bishop dies "a sudden death." According to it, the bishop should not be buried at once but "placed with great care in a coffin apart from the others." Comparative philology, the archaeology of sixth-century Valencia, and recent paleogenetic investigation into the bacterium that causes the disease all combine to suggest that within the broader context of episcopal funerary displays, the "sudden death" referred to is the plague and that the canon is a response to changes in burial customs—especially the newfound prevalence of mass inhumation—caused by the first wave of the pandemic.