Are there Reliable Roman historical accounts about the "Plague of Cyprian?"

Every so often, someone will come here and ask for a list of contemporary Roman historical accounts about Jesus (because, apparently, Christian historical authors are unreliable). I have pointed out several times that we have FAR more contemporary historic documentation (by Christians) about Jesus than we have (by Romans) about the Emperor Nero (strange, but true - the earliest account was written 50 years after Nero’s death; the next two came a century later).

But there’s another significant bit of Roman history that likewise seems almost ignored by contemporary Roman authors. The “Plague of Cyprian” is thus named because most of our historic information comes from the writing (mainly in De Mortalitate) of St. Cyprian, an Early Church Father (my favorite!) who was Bishop of Carthage (he truly believed the plague marked the end of the world).

The plague came to my attention because of recent archaeological discoveries of large-scale funerary operations which have been reported in the news.

This plague was really, really nasty - at it’s peak, it may have killed as many as 5,000 people per day in the city of Rome alone (according to the most recent issue of Egyptian Archaeology magazine). It took the lives of two Roman Emperors (Hostilian in 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in 270). It stalked most of the Roman Empire for 21 years (more than twice as long as the Black Death (Bubonic Plague)).

Yet I have been unable to find a contemporary Roman author who wrote about it in any level of detail. Some authors mention it (usually in some other context). I have not seen anything in contemporary Roman sources that would give us any idea of the scope and magnitude of this plague - an event that brought the Roman Empire to its knees and was surely front-page news for 21 years (seven years longer than Nero’s reign).

Anybody know of anything? I’m interested in building up an inventory of Roman historical events that are better attested to by Christian authors than by pagan Roman authors, and this seems like a good place to start.

Not true–
here are some earlier accounts of Nero
Josephus —Antiquities of the Jews 93-94 Ad - about 25 years after his death- mentions nero
Lucanus — Pharsalia 65 AD 3 years before Neros death - mentions nero
Apocolocyntosis 4 by Seneca who died 3 years before Nero’s Death - mentions nero
Naturalis Historia - By Pliny the Elder, 9 years after Nero’s death - mentions nero


  • Numerous inscriptions, coins, statues, buildings etc
  • the histories that were lost

I’m not talking about accounts that simply happen to MENTION Nero (or the Plague of Cyprian). I’m talking about contemporary accounts by Roman authors that are substantially ABOUT Nero (or the Plague of Cyprian).

There seems to be very little in either category.

Early Christian authors appear to provide most of our historic understanding of BOTH Jesus AND the Plague of Cyprian. Why is the testimony of these Christian authors accepted with regard to the plague, but doubted with regard to Jesus?

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