Archaeologia Polona vol. 44:2006
Special theme: Archaeology – anthropology – history. Parallel tracks and divergences
PL ISSN 0066-5924
The plague pandemic and Slavic expansion in the 6th-8th centuries
The plague pandemic in 541-543 and successive outbreaks of the disease till the latter half of the 8th century caused a deep demographic crisis in the Eastern Roman Empire. The most important effects of the plague were a shortage of manpower and a growing importance of marginal barbarian populations, which had suffered less or not at all from the disease. Demographic, political and economic consequences of the pandemic likely caused or at least facilitated Slavic expansion in the Balkans between the 6th and 8th century. The Slavs began to raid intensively and then settle the European provinces of the Roman Empire soon after the first outbreak of the plague and available textual evidence suggests that this region was depopulated by the disease and neglected by the government. During the 7th century, the Empire's administration and economy collapsed due to the effects of the plague and the existing system of land taxation and central provisioning of professional armies must have been replaced by regional organization of territorial troops recruited from free peasant farmers. In the new circumstances, the Slavs, who had in the meantime re-populated the Balkans, constituted an abundant source of manpower for a restored Empire.
Keywords: Balkans, bubonic plague, Eastern Roman Empire, historical demography, Slavs