Evidence of what one bishop described as the "end of the world" plague has been unearthed by Italian archaeologists in Egypt.
Archaeologists with the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor [MAIL] recently discovered a large monument used as a burial site in modern-day Luxor. The monument contained some human remains covered in lime, as well as bones charred by a giant bonfire. The archaeologists believe this evidence, along with the nearby discovery of three kilns used to make lime, are proof that the momentous plague of the 3rd Century A.D. that wiped out vast portions of the Roman Empire, including Egypt.
Francesco Tiradritti, director of the MAIL, told LiveScience that in ancient times, the lime was considered to be a disinfectant, and was likely used on the bodies in an attempt to halt the spread of infection. The bodies of plague victims were also burned, again to stop further contamination.
The plague that hit the Roman Empire during the 3rd Century was also named the Cyprian Plague, after a Bishop in Carthage who believed the widespread illness was a symbol of the end times.
"The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world," Saint Cyprian wrote in the book Ante-Nicene Fathers, as reported by LiveScience.
Tiradritti added in the magazine Egyptian Archaeology that the burial of the corpses in the monument gave the area a lasting bad reputation until it was looted by grave robbers centuries later. "[…] for the disposal of infected corpses gave the monument a lasting bad reputation and doomed it to centuries of oblivion until tomb robbers entered the complex in the early 19th century."
The Italian archaeologist also discussed the theory that the plague contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. "It killed two Emperors, Hostilian in A.D. 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in A.D. 270," Tiradritti wrote, adding that it is "a generally held opinion that the 'Plague of Cyprian' seriously weakened the Roman Empire, hastening its fall."
According to the Daily Mail, the plague, which lasted until 271 A.D., was so feared that many times, citizens of the Roman Empire would turn in their friends and family just to avoid the wide-reaching disease, that has been described by modern scientists as possibly being smallpox.