"[Theodore] made very large pits, inside each of which 70,000 corpses were laid down. He thus appointed men there, who brought down corpses, sorted them and piled them up. They pressed them in rows on top of each other, in the same way as someone presses hay in a loft. Men and women were trodden down, and in the little space between them, the young and infants were pressed down, trodden with the feet and trampled down like spoilt grapes.” (John of Ephesus)
The bubonic plague was the worst affliction ever visited upon Europe and the Mediterranean world. Within a few short years, a quarter of the population was taken after a short but torturous illness. Those who escaped faced famine and economic hardship. Crops were left unsown; the harvests spoiled for lack of harvesters; villages, towns, and great cities were depopulated. Markets were destroyed; and trade ground to a halt. It must have seemed like the end of the world to the terrified populace. The horror abated, only to return years later, often with less virulence, but no less misery.
Many who read a description of that plague might immediately think of the Black Death, the great epidemic that ravaged Europe and the Middle East from 1347-1351, but it actually refers to the lesser-known but arguably worse Plague of Justinian that descended upon the Mediterranean world in 541 and continued to decimate it over the next 200 years.