Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Plague of Cyprian: Varying Perspectives on a Third-Century Ancient Roman Pandemic

AHA Session 59
Friday, January 7, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Rhythms Ballroom 3 (Sheraton New Orleans, 2nd Floor)
Kimberly Anne Boyers Klimek, Metropolitan State University of Denver
The Audience

Session Abstract

The scholars of this panel will present a comprehensive, multidisciplinary investigation into contemporary and modern approaches to one of the first recorded pandemics in history. The first two presentations will address the pandemic via contemporary ancient sources, and the second two linked sessions will overlay ancient evidence and modern theories of disease and contagion in a multi-pronged and interdisciplinary forensic/bioarcheology approach. The plague (c.250-270 CE or alternatively c.249-262 CE) was named after the Carthaginian Bishop who recorded the disease, St. Cyprian. The symptoms of the sick included bloody stools, continuous stomach cramps, fever, ulcers of the mouth and throat, vomiting, blood erupting from the eyes, and the “putrefaction” of the extremities. Baylee Staufenbiel, (M.A., Annabel Horward Graduate Fellow, Department of History; Florida State University) will begin the discussion by addressing how the Hippocratic and Galenic medical corporis were used to diagnose and treat the disease in the third century. Dr. Barbara Logan, (Assistant Professor, History, University of Wyoming) will use Cyprian’s De Mortalitate to interpret how third century Christians made sense of the disease as part of their eschatological and soteriological ideas. Doane University's Dr. Mark Orsag, (Professor of European and Interdisciplinary History) and Dr. Amanda McKinney, (MD, CPE, FACLM, FACOG, Executive Director of the Institute for Human and Planetary Health, Associate Dean of Health Science) and Bucknell University's Dr. DeeAnn M. Reeder, (Professor, Department of Biology) will initially use Dr. Kyle Harper’s relevant articles (that appeared in the Journal of Roman Archaeology and other publications) concerning the Plague of Cyprian and treatment of the pestilence in his subsequent book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, & the End of an Empire, as a starting point for interdisciplinary discussion and analysis aimed at pinponting Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) candidates that would explain the plagues's origins and symptoms. Their second presentation addresses by what means the chief pathogenic suspect a, generally understood as biogeographically sub-Saharan African zoonotic Filovirus, was likely transmitted to the Roman Empire’s population. By exploring factors that would have affected patterns of disease dissemination and determined the pathogen's ancient, as opposed to modern, infectiousness R naught values (particularly in imperial Roman urban settings) a probable and surprisingly holistic epidemiological history of the Plague of Cyprian can be modeled.
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