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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - (Opinion) In the 6th century, the plague struck in Constantinople. Emperor Justinian, the ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire, well on his way to reconquer Western Rome from the barbarians, became infected. He survived the disease but his armies fell apart. The conquered territories rebelled, and the plan failed.

When the plague finally passed mid-eighth century, the world was a different place. The new religion of Islam ruled in parts of the former empire, and in Western Europe, the Franks spread.

"Plagues and Peoples" is the title of a book by the American historian William . . .

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