Fleas, plague and productivity
Here is my review in last Sunday's book section of Justinian's Flea, a history by veteran editor William Rosen of the Eastern Roman Empire as led by Justinian the Great in the 6th century. Economics content: The first severe outbreak of bubonic plague devasted the Mediterranean labor force, which caused big changes in wages and worker mobility. From the review:
"Perhaps a quarter of the citizens had died. The resulting labor shortage drove up wages and costs for both agricultural production and military service. Consolidation of the empire stalled and then reversed, perhaps accelerated by the fact that Justinian had no sons.
"Even so, Justinian and the flea that carried the bacillus, Rosen argues, created conditions for the formation of modern Europe.
"Justinian's consolidation and rationalization of Roman law underpins the civil code across the continent. Hagia Sophia, Justinian's great Constantinople church, is one of the wonders of the world. The chaos left by imperial decline turned out to be an incubator for nation-states such as France and Spain. The plague-caused labor shortage spurred technology improvements that boosted agricultural productivity and put Europe on the path to becoming the world's first rich continent."