By any account, 590 was a disastrous year in Rome. Plague had struck, sweeping through the homes of poor and wealthy alike. Even the pope was carried away by the fearsome disease. The spring floods were the worst in memory; the Tiber broke through its retaining walls, causing enormous damage.
The Lombards, a fierce barbarian tribe that had been invading Italy, were now threatening the city itself. Food was in short supply, civil government was breaking down, and there was little hope that the future would be better. Rome, once the proud capital of an empire, could no longer defend itself. Even the bravest souls believed that the world was coming to an end.
In the spring and summer of 590, a fifty-year-old Roman monk by the name of Gregory had an additional anxiety. He was dreading the arrival of a letter from the emperor, who was then living in Constantinople, hundreds of miles to the east. Gregory hoped against hope that the letter would never come.
The Letter That Changed History. Descended from an ancient and powerful Roman family, Gregory had begun his career as a lawyer. In his…
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