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The devastating plague tore through the Byzantine Empire, which was ruled by Emperor Justinian I. This was the start of the first of three historical plague pandemics, the second being the Black Death in the 14th century, and the third being the plague pandemic of the 20th century.
An important eyewitness account by Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-113) offers us a glimpse of that fateful day in A.D. 79 when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried an entire town and most of its inhabitants. Pliny, whose uncle died in the disaster, vividly describes sheets of fire and enormous pumice stones raining down from the volcano as well as people running desperately towards the sea, terrified for their lives.