- This article concerns the worldwide pandemicstarting in the mid-14th century, with a focus on material available from European records and accounts. For detailed information on the most commonly accepted cause of the disease, see bubonic plague.
The Black Death was a devastating pandemicthat first struck Europein the mid-14th century (1347–50), killing about a third of Europe's population, an estimated 34 million people. A series of contemporaneous plague epidemicsalso occurred across large portions of Asiaand the Middle East, indicating that the European outbreak was actually part of a worldwide pandemic. The same disease is thought to have returned to Europe every generation with varying degrees of intensity and fatality until the 1700s. Notable late outbreaks include the Italian Plague of 1629-1631, the Great Plague of London(1665–66), and the Great Plague of Vienna(1679). A significant outbreak of the bubonic plague, the Great Plague of Marseille, occurred in France in 1720 - 1722. As the source of this infection was directly from the Middle East, this outbreak is probably not a continuation of the Black Death.
In addition to its drastic effect on Europe's population, the plague irrevocably changed Europe's social structure, was a serious blow to Europe's predominant religiousinstitution, the Roman Catholic Church, resulted in widespread persecutionsof minoritiessuch as Jewsand lepers, and created a general moodof morbiditythat influenced people who were uncertain of their daily survival to live for the moment.
The initial 14th-century European event was called the "Great Mortality" by contemporary writers and, with later outbreaks, became known as the "Black Death" because of a striking symptom of the disease, called acral necrosis, in which sufferers' skin would blacken due to subdermal hemorrhages. Historical records attribute the Black Death to an outbreak of bubonic plague, an epidemic of the bacteriumYersinia pestis spread by fleaswith the help of animals like the black rat(Rattus rattus), although today's experts debate both the microbiological culprit and mode of transmission.
- 1 Pattern of the pandemic
- 1.1 Asian outbreak
- 1.2 European outbreak
- 1.3 Recurrence
- 2 Causes
- 2.1 Bubonic plague theory
- 2.1.1 Forms of the plague
- 2.1.2 Signs and symptoms
- 2.2 Alternative explanations
- 3 Consequences
- 3.1 Depopulation
- 3.2 Socio-economic effects
- 3.3 Persecutions
- 3.4 Religion
- 3.5 Other social effects
- 4 Black Death in literature
- 4.1 Contemporary
- 4.2 Modern
- 5 Selected sources and further reading
- 5.1 References
- 5.2 Primary sources
- 5.2.1 Primary sources online
- 5.3 Secondary sources
- 5.3.1 Secondary sources online
- 5.4 Related events
Pattern of the pandemic
The bubonic plague was endemic in populations of infected ground rodentsin central Asia, and was a known cause of death among migrant and established populations in that region. However, it is not entirely clear where the 14th-century pandemic started. The most popular theory places the first cases in the steppesof central Asia, though some speculate that it originated around northern India. From there, it was carried east and west by traders and Mongolarmies along the Silk Road.
Whether or not this theory is accurate, it is clear that several preexisting conditions such as war, famine, and weather contributed to the severity of the Black Death. A devastating civil war in Chinabetween the established Chinese population and the Mongol houses raged between 1205 and 1353. This war disrupted farming and trading patterns, and led to episodes of widespread famine. A so-called "Little Ice Age" had begun at the end of the thirteenth century. The disastrous weather reached a peak in the first half of the fourteenth century with devastating results worldwide.
In the years 1315to 1322a catastrophic famine, known as the Great Famine, struck all of Northern Europe. Food shortages and skyrocketing prices were a fact of life for as much as a century before the plague. Wheat, oats, hayand consequently livestockwere all in short supply and their scarcity resulted in hungerand malnutrition. The result was a mounting human vulnerability to disease due to weakened immunity. The European economyentered a vicious cycle in which hunger and small scale disease reduced the productivityof laborers, and so the grain outputsuffered, causing the grain prices to increase. The famine was self-perpetuating, devastating places like Flandersand Burgundyas much as the Black Death was to devastate all of Europe.
A typhoidepidemic was to be a predictor of the coming disaster. Many thousands died in populated urban centers, most significantly Ypres. In 1318a pestilence of unknown origin, sometimes identified as anthrax, hit the animals of Europe. The disease targeted sheepand cattle, further reducing the food supply and incomeof the peasantryand putting another strain on the economy. The increasingly international nature of the European economies meant that the depressionwas felt across Europe. Due to pestilence, the failure of England's woolexportsled to the destruction of the Flemish weaving industry. Unemployment bred crime and poverty.
The central Asian scenario agrees with the first reports of outbreaks in Chinain the early 1330s. The plague struck the Chinese province of Hubeiin 1334. During 1353–54, more widespread disaster occurred. Chinese accounts of this wave of the disease record a spread to eight distinct areas: Hubei, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Henanand Suiyuan(a historical Chinese province that now forms part of Hubei and Nei Mongul provinces), throughout the Mongol/Chinese empires. Historian William McNeillnoted that voluminous Chinese records on disease and social disruption survive from this period, but that modern scholars in neither the East nor the West have studied these sources in depth.
It appears that movement by the Mongols and merchant caravans inadvertently brought the plague from central Asia to the Middle East and Europe. The plague was reported in the trading cities of Constantinopleand Trebizondin 1347. In that same year the Genoesepossession of Kaffa, a cathedral city and seaport on the Crimeanpeninsula in modern day Ukraine, came under siege by an army of Crimean Tatarwarriors under the command of Janibeg, backed by Venetianforces. Their objective was disruption of a trading empire Genoa had established in Kaffa. In 1347, a terrible sickness began to strike the besieging army. According to accounts, so many died that the survivors had little time to bury them and bodies were stacked like cords of firewood against the city walls. Although the Tatar/Venetian alliance broke off the siege, the disease had already spread to the city.
Image:Bubonic plague map.PNG
In October 1347, a fleet of Genovese trading ships fleeing Kaffa reached the port of Messina. By the time the fleet reached Messina, all the crew members were either infected or dead. It is presumed that the ships also carried infected rats and/or fleas. Some ships were found grounded on shorelines, with no one aboard remaining alive. Looting of these lost ships also helped spread the disease. From there, the plague spread to Genoa and Veniceby the turn of 1347/1348.
From Italythe disease spread northwest across Europe, striking France, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britainby June 1348, then turned and spread east through Germanyand Scandinaviafrom 1348to 1350, and finally to north-western Russiain 1351. The plague largely spared some parts of Europe, including the Kingdom of Polandand parts of Belgiumand the Netherlands.
<math>Insert formula here</math>===Middle Eastern outbreak===
The plague struck various countries in the Middle East during the pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both economic and social structures. The disease first entered the region from southern Russia. In AD 1347, Muslim leader Malik Asraf, of the Jalayird dynasty, returned with his troops to Baghdadfrom a military action in Tabriz (near modern Azerbaijan) where the plague was raging. The difference is that this same military troop promptly placed the town of Hasan Buzurg, near Baghdad, under siege but had to abort when plague struck the army and spread to Baghdad itself.
By autumn 1347, the plague reached Alexandriain Egypt, probably through the port's trade with Constantinopleand ports on the Black Sea. During 1348, the disease traveled eastward to Gaza, and north along the eastern coast to cities in Syriaand Palestine, including Asqalan, Acre, Jerusalem, Sidon, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. In 1348–49, the disease reached Antioch. The city's residents fled to the north, most of them dying during the journey, but the infection had been spread to the people of Asia Minor.
Meccabecame infected in 1349. The people of Mecca blamed the disease on non-believers entering the city, but it is more likely to have arrived with Muslim pilgrims from surrounding infected areas. During the same year, records show the city of Mawsil(Mosul) suffered a massive epidemic, and the city of Baghdad experienced a second round of the disease. In 1351, Yemen experienced an outbreak of the plague. This coincided with the return of King Mujahid of Yemenfrom imprisonment in Cairo. His party may have brought the disease with them from Egypt.
The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries, and although the bubonic plague still exists with isolated cases today, the Great Plague of Londonin 1665-1666is generally recognized as one of the last major outbreaks. The Great Fire of Londonin 1666, may have killed off any remaining plague bearing rats and fleas, which led to a decline in the plague. The destruction of rats in the Great Fire may also have contributed to the ascendancy of brown rats in England. According to the bubonic plague theory, one possible explanation for the disappearance of plague from Europe may be that the black rat(Rattus rattus) infectionreservoir and its disease vector was subsequently displaced and succeeded by the bigger Norwegian, or brown, rat(Rattus norvegicus), which is not as prone to transmit the germ-bearing fleas to humans in large rat die-offs (see Appleby and Slack references below).
Late outbreaks in central Europe include the Italian Plague of 1629-1631, which is associated with troop movements during the Thirty Years' War, and the Great Plague of Viennain 1679, which may have been due to a reintroduction of the plague from eastern trading ports.
Bubonic plague theory
Image:Yersinia pestis fluorescent.jpeg
Forms of the plague
The plague consisted of three forms: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. The bubonic and septicemic plague are transmitted by direct contact with fleas. The bacteria multiplies inside a flea, blocking its stomach and causing it to become very hungry. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed because it is unable to satisfy its hunger. During the feeding process, infected blood carrying the plague bacteria flows into the wound. The plague bacteria then has a new host, and the flea eventually dies from starvation.
The human pneumonic plague has a different form of transmission. It is transmitted through bacteria in droplets of saliva coughed up by persons with bloodstream infection (sepsis) or pneumonia, which may have started as the bubonic form of disease. The airborne bacteria may be inhaled by a nearby susceptible person, and a new infection starts directly in the lungs or throat of the other, bypassing the bubonic form of disease.
Signs and symptoms
The three forms of plague brought an array of signs and symptoms to those infected. Bubonic plague refers to the painful lymph node swellings called buboes. The septicemic plague is called "Blood poisoning", and pneumonic plague is an airborne plague that forms a first attack on the lungs. The classic sign of bubonic plague was the appearance of buboes in the groin and armpits, which ooze pus and blood. Victims underwent damage to the skin and underlying tissue until they were covered in dark blotches. This symptom, called acral necrosis, led to the disease being called the "Black" plague. Most victims died within four to seven days after infection. When plague reached Europe, it first struck port cities and then followed the trade routes, both by sea and land.
The bubonic plaguewas the most commonly seen form of the Black Death, with a mortality rate of thirty to seventy-five percent and symptoms including feverof 38 to 41 °C(101-105 °F), headaches, aching joints, nauseaand vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise. The pneumonic plaguewas the second most commonly seen form of the Black Death, with a mortality rate of ninety to ninety-five percent. Symptoms included slimy sputumtinted with blood. As the disease progressed, sputum became free flowing and bright red. Septicemic plague was the most rare of the three forms, with mortality close to 100 percent. Symptoms were high fevers and skin turning deep shades of purple due to DIC (Disseminated intravascular coagulation).
An interesting hypothesis about the appearance, spread and especially disappearance of plague from Europe is that the flea-bearing rodent reservoir of disease was eventually succeeded by another species. The black rat(Rattus rattus) was originally introduced from Asia to Europe by trade, but was subsequently displaced and succeeded throughout Europe by the bigger Norwegian or brown rat(Rattus norvegicus). The brown rat was not as prone to transmit the germ-bearing fleas to humans in large die-offs due to a different rat ecology (see Appleby and Slack, secondary references below). The dynamic complexities of rat ecology, herd immunityin that reservoir, interaction with human ecology, secondary transmission routes between humans with or without fleas, human herd immunity and changes in each might explain the eruption, dissemination, and re-eruptions of plague that continued for centuries until its (even more) unexplained disappearance.
However, recent scientific and historical investigations have led researchers to doubt the long-held belief that the Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague. For example, in 2000, Gunnar Karlsson (Iceland's 1100 Years: The History of a Marginal Society) pointed out that the Black Death killed between half and two-thirds of the population of Iceland, although there were no rats in Iceland at this time. Rats were accidentally introduced in the 19th century, and have never spread beyond a small number of urban areas attached to seaports. In the 14th century there were no urban settlements in Iceland. Iceland was unaffected by the later plagues which are known to have been spread by rats.
In 1984, Graham Twiggpublished The Black Death: A Biological Reappraisal, where he argued that the climate and ecology of Europe and particularly England made it nearly impossible for rats and fleas to have transmitted bubonic plague. Combining information on the biology of R. rattus, R. norvegicus, and the common fleas X. cheopis and P. irritans with modern studies of plague epidemiology, particularly in India, where the R. rattus is a native species and conditions are nearly ideal for plague to be spread, Twigg concludes that it would have been nearly impossible for Y. pestis to have been the causative agent of the beginning of the plague, let alone its explosive spread across all of Europe and England. Twigg also shows that the common theory of entirely pneumonic spread does not hold up. He proposes, based on a reexamination of the evidence and symptoms, that the Black Death may actually have been an epidemic of pulmonary anthraxcaused by Bacillus anthracis.
In 2001, epidemiologistsSusan Scottand Christopher Duncanfrom Liverpool Universityproposed the theory that the Black Death might have been caused by an Ebola-like virus, not a bacterium. Their rationale was that this plague spread much faster and the incubation period was much longer than other confirmed Yersinia pestis plagues. A longer period of incubation will allow carriers of the infection to travel farther and infect more people than a shorter one. When the primary vectoris humans, as opposed to birds, this is of great importance. Studies of English church records indicate an unusually long incubation period in excess of 30 days, which could account for the rapid spread, topping at 5 km/day. The plague also appeared in areas of Europe where rats were uncommon like Iceland. Epidemiological studies suggest the disease was transferred between humans (which happens rarely with Yersinia pestis and very rarely for Bacillus anthracis), and some genesthat determine immunity to Ebola-like viruses are much more widespread in Europethan in other parts of the world. Their research and findings are thoroughly documented in Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer.
In a similar vein, historian Norman F. Cantor, in his 2001book In the Wake of the Plague, suggests the Black Death might have been a combination of pandemics including a form of anthrax, a cattle murrain. He cites many forms of evidence including: reported disease symptoms not in keeping with the known effects of either bubonic or pneumonic plague, the discovery of anthrax spores in a plague pitin Scotland, and the fact that meat from infected cattle was known to have been sold in many rural English areas prior to the onset of the plague. It is notable that the means of infection varied widely, from human-to-human contact as in Iceland (rare for plague and cutaneous Bacillus anthracis) to infection in the absence of living or recently-dead humans, as in Sicily (which speaks against most viruses). Also, diseases with similar symptoms were generally not distinguished between in that period (see murrain above), at least not in the Christian world; Chinese and Muslim medical records can be expected to yield better information which however only pertains to the specific disease(s) which affected these areas. See ISBN 0060014342
There is still a thriving majority of historians that support the bubonic plague as cause, and so counterarguments have been drawn in defense of the bubonic plague theory.
The uncharacteristically rapid spread of the plague could be due to low levels of immunity in that period's European population. Historical examples of pandemics of other diseases in populations without previous exposure, such as smallpoxand tuberculosisamongst American Indians, show that the low levels of inherited adaptation to the disease cause the first epidemic to spread faster and to be far more virulent than later epidemics among the descendants of survivors. Also, the plague returned again and again and was regarded as the same disease through succeeding centuries into modern times when the Yersinia bacterium was identified.
In addition, it was previously argued that tooth pulp tissue from a 14th-century plague cemeteryin Montpelliertested positive for molecules associated with Y. Pestis. However, such a finding was never confirmed in any other cemetery, nor were any DNA samples recovered. In September 2003, a team of researchers from Oxford Universitytested 121 teeth from 66 skeletons found in 14th-century mass graves. The remains showed no genetic trace of Yersinia pestis, and the researchers suspect that the Montpellier study was flawed.
See also: Medieval demography.
Information about the death tollvaries widely by area and from source to source. Approximately 25 million deaths occurred in Europe alone, with many others occurring in northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Estimates of the demographic impact of plague in Asia are based on both population figures during this time and estimates of the disease's toll on population centers. The initial outbreak of plague in the Chineseprovinceof Hubeiin 1334 claimed up to 90 percent of the population, an estimated five million people. During 1353–54, outbreaks in eight distinct areas throughout the Mongol/Chinese empiresmay have caused the death of two-thirds of China's population, often yielding an estimate of 25 million deaths.
It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of the European population died from the outbreak between 1348 and 1350. As many as 25% of all villages were depopulated, mostly the smaller communities, as the few survivors fled to larger towns and cities. The Black Death hit the cultureof towns and cities disproportionately hard. Some rural areas, for example, Eastern Polandand Lithuania, had such low populations and were so isolated that the plague made little progress. Larger cities were the worst off, as population densities and close living quarters made disease transmission easier. Cities were also strikingly filthy, infested with lice, fleas and rats, and subject to diseases related to malnutrition and poor hygiene. According to historian John Kelly, "(w)oefully inadequate sanitation made medieval urban Europe so disease-ridden, no city of any size could maintain its population without a constant influx of immigrants from the countryside." (p. 68) The influx of new citizens facilitated the movement of the plague between communities, and contributed to the longevity of the plague within larger communities.
The precise demographic impact of the disease in the Middle Eastis impossible to calculate. Mortality was particularly high in rural areas, including significant areas of Palestine and Syria. Many surviving rural people fled, leaving their fields and crops, and entire rural provinces are recorded as being totally depopulated. Surviving records in some cities reveal a devastating number of deaths. The 1348 outbreak in Gazaleft an estimated 10,000 people dead, while Alepporecorded a death rate of 500 a day during the same year. In Damascus, at the disease's peak in September and October 1348, a thousand deaths were recorded every day, with overall mortality estimated at between 25 and 38 percent. Syria lost a total of 400,000 people by the time the epidemic subsided in March 1349. In contrast to some higher mortality estimates in Asia and Europe, scholars believe the mortality rate in the Middle East was less than one-third of the total population, with higher rates in selected areas.
The governmentsof Europe had no effective response to the crisis because no one knew its cause or how it spread. Most monarchsinstituted measures that prohibited exports of foodstuffs, condemned black marketspeculators, set price controlson grain, and outlawed large-scale fishing. At best, they proved mostly unenforceable, and at worse they contributed to a continent-wide downward spiral. The hardest hit lands, like England, were unable to buy grain abroad, from France because of the prohibition, and from most of the rest of the grain producers because of crop failures from shortage of labor. Any grain that could be shipped was eventually taken by piratesor lootersto be sold on the black market. Meanwhile, many of the largest countries, most notably England and Scotland, had been at war, using up much of their treasuryand exacerbating inflation. In 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War. This, another of the crises of the fourteenth century, would deplete the treasuries, manpower, and infrastructureof both kingdomsthroughout and beyond the worst of the plague. Malnutrition, poverty, disease and hunger, coupled with war, growing inflation and other economic concerns made Europe in the mid-fourteenth century ripe for tragedy.
The plague did more than just devastate the medieval population; it caused a substantial change in economy and society in all areas of the world. Economic historians like Fernand Braudelhave concluded that Black Death began during a recessionin the European economy that had been under way since the beginning of the century, and only served to worsen it. As a consequence, it greatly accelerated social and economic change during the 14th and 15th centuries. First, the church's power was weakened, and in some cases, the social roles it had played were replaced by secular ones. It also led to peasant uprisingsin many parts of Europe, such as France (the Jacquerie rebellion), Italy (the Ciompi rebellion, which swept the city of Florence), and in England (the English Peasant Revolt).
The Black Death should have opened the way to increased peasant prosperity. Europe had been overpopulated before the plague, and a reduction of 30% to 50% of the population should have meant less competition for resources: more available land and food, and higher wages. However, for reasons that are still debated, population levels in fact continued to decline until around 1420 and did not begin to rise again until 1470, so the initial Black Death event on its own does not entirely provide a satisfactory explanation to this extended period of decline in prosperity. See Medieval demographyfor a more complete treatment of this issue and current theories on why improvements in living standards took longer to evolve.
The great population loss brought economic changes based on increased social mobility, as depopulation further eroded the peasants' already weakened obligations to remain on their traditional holdings. In Western Europe, the sudden scarcity of cheap labor provided an incentive for landlords to compete for peasants with wages and freedoms, an innovation that, some argue, represents the roots of capitalism, and the resulting social upheaval caused the Renaissanceand even Reformation. In many ways the Black Death improved the situation of surviving peasants. In Western Europe, because of the shortage of labor they were in more demand and had more power, and because of the reduced population, there was more fertile land available; however, the benefits would not be fully realized until 1470, nearly 120 years later, when overall population levels finally began to rise again.
In Eastern Europe, by contrast, renewed stringency of laws tied the remaining peasant population more tightly to the land than ever before through serfdom. Sparsely populated Eastern Europe was less affected by the Black Death and so peasant revolts were less common in the 14th and 15th centuries, not occurring in the east until the 16th through 19th centuries. Since it is believed to have in part caused the social upheavals of 14th- and 15th-century Western Europe, some see the Black Death as a factor in the Renaissance and even the Reformation in Western Europe. Therefore, historians have cited the smaller impact of the plague as a contributing factor in Eastern Europe's failure to experience either of these movements on a similar scale. Extrapolating from this, the Black Death may be seen as partly responsible for Eastern Europe's considerable lag in scientific and philosophical advances as well as in the move to liberalise government by restricting the power of the monarch and aristocracy. A common example is that England is seen to have effectively ended serfdomby 1550while moving towards more representative government; meanwhile, Russiadid not abolish serfdom until an autocratic tsardecreed so in 1861.
On top of all this, the plague's great population reduction brought cheaper land prices, more food for the average peasant, and a relatively large increase in per capita income among the peasantry, if not immediately, in the coming century. However, the upper class often attempted to stop these changes, initially in Western Europe, and more forcefully and successfully in Eastern Europe, by instituting laws which barred the peasantry from certain actions or material goods. A good example of this is the sumptuarylaws which were passed throughout Europe which regulated what people (particularly of the peasant class) could wear, so that nobles could ensure that peasants did not begin to dress and act as a higher class member with their increased wealth. Another tactic was to fix prices and wages so that peasants could not demand more with increasing value. This was met with varying success depending on the amount of rebellion it inspired; such a law was one of the causes of England's 1381Peasants' Revolt.
As with other natural and man-made social disasters, renewed religious fervor and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of Black Death. In many parts of Europe, rumors circulated that Jews caused the plague by deliberately poisoning wells. Typically, comparatively fewer Jews died from the Black Death, in part due to rabbinical lawsthat called for a lifestyle that was, in general, cleaner than that of a typical medieval villager, and because of isolation in Jewish ghettos; this raised the suspicion of people unable to explain the plague through scientific reasoning.
Fierce pogromsfrequently resulted in the death or banishment of most of the Jews in a town or city. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been exterminated, and more than 350 separate massacres had occurred. This persecution was often not merely out of religious hatred, but also as a way of attacking the Kings or Church who protected the Jews (Jews were often called the King's property) as a way of lashing out at the institutions that had failed them.
An important legacy of the Black Death was to cause the eastward movement of what was left of north European Jewry to Poland and Russia, where it remained until the 20th century.
Leperswere also singled out and persecuted, indeed exterminated throughout Europe. Anyone with a skin disease such as acneor psoriasiswas thought to be a leper, and leprosy was believed to be an outward sign of an inner defect of the soul. Both Jews and lepers were persecuted because they became scapegoatsfor the disasters of society. <ref>R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Oxford, 1987 ISBN 0631171452</ref><ref>David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence, 1998, ISBN 069105889X</ref>
The Black Death led to cynicism toward religious officials who could not keep their frequent promises of curing plague victims and banishing the disease. No one, the Church included, was able to cure or even explain the plague. In fact, most thought it spread somehow through air, calling it miasma. This increased doubting of the clergy. PopeClement VIreigned during the plague years in Europe during a time when the papacy was based in Avignon, France. This period in papal history, known as the Babylonian Captivityto its detractors, was a concurrent cause of the people's lack of faith in the Catholic Church. The Avignon popes were seen as having subordinated themselves to the French monarchy, and their ineffectiveness regarding the Black Death only compounded the common man's disillusionment. Extreme alienation with the church culminated in either support for different religious groups such as the flagellants, which grew tremendously during the opening years of the Black Death (angering church and political officials greatly), or to an increase in interest for more secular alternatives to problems facing European society and an increase of secular politicians.
The Black Death hit the monasteries very hard because of their close quarters and their kindness in helping the sick, so that there was a severe shortage of clergy after the epidemic cycle. This resulted in a mass influx of new clergy members, most of whom did not share the life-long convictions and experiences of the veterans they replaced. This resulted in abuses by the clergy in years afterwards and a further deterioration of the position of the Church in the eyes of the people.
Other social effects
After 1350 European culturein general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism, and the art turned dark with representations of death. The Dies Irae was created in this period as was the popular poem La Danse Macabre and the instructive and popular Ars moriendi ("the art of dying"). See also The Decameron.
The science of alchemywas affected by the plague. As a specialty and method of treatment, it was considered the norm for most scientists and doctors prior and during the Black Death. However, after the plague had taken its toll, the practice of alchemy slowly began to wane. The citizenry began to realize that, in most cases, it did not affect the progress of the epidemic and that some of the potions and "cures" used by many doctors throughout Christendom and the Islamic world only helped to worsen the condition of the sick. Liquor(distilled alcohol), originally made by alchemists, was commonly applied as a remedy for the Black Death, and as a result the popularity and consumption of liquor in Europe rose dramatically after the plague.
Black Death in literature
The specter of the Black Death dominated art and literature thoughout the generation that experienced it. Much of the most useful manifestations of the Black Death in literature, to historians, comes from the accounts of its chroniclers, often the only real way to get a sense of the horror of living through a disaster on such a scale. A few were famous writers, philosophers and rulers (like Boccaccioand Petrarch), but most were quite ordinary people who happened to work in a job requiring literacy, a rare talent. For example, Agnolo di Turathe Fat, of Siena, records his experience:
Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices ... great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds both day and night... And as soon as those ditches were filled more were dug ... And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. This situation continued [from May] until September.
The scene Di Tura describes is repeated over and over again all across Europe. In Sicily, Gabriele de'Mussi, a notary, tells of the early spread from the Crimea:
Alas! our ships enter the port, but of a thousand sailors hardly ten are spared. We reach our homes; our kindred?come from all parts to visit us. Woe to us for we cast at them the darts of death! ?Going back to their homes, they in turn soon infected their whole families, who in three days succumbed, and were buried in one common grave. Priests and doctors visiting?from their duties ill, and soon were?dead. O death! cruel, bitter, impious death! ?Lamenting our misery, we feared to fly, yet we dared not remain.
Henry Knightontells of the plague?s coming to England:
Then the grievous plague came to the seacoasts from Southampton, and came to Bristol, and it was as if all the strength of the town had died, as if they had been hit with sudden death, for there were few who stayed in their beds more than three days, or two days, or even one half a day.
In addition to these personal accounts, many presentations of the Black Death have entered the general consciousness as great literature. For example, the major works of Boccaccio (The Decameron), Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer(The Canterbury Tales), and William Langland(Piers Plowman), which all discuss the Black Death, are generally recognized as some of the best works of their era.
La Danse Macabre, or the Dance of death, is an allegoryon the universality of death, expressing the common wisdom of the time that no matter ones station in life, the dance of death united all. It consists of the personifiedDeath leading a row of dancing figures from all walks of life to the grave—typically with an emperor, king, pope, monk, youngster, beautiful girl, all in skeleton-state. They were produced under the impact of the Black Death, reminding people of how fragile their lives were and how vain the glories of earthly lifewere. The earliest artistic example is from the frescoedcemetery of the Church of the Holy Innocentsin Paris (1424). There are also works by Konrad Witzin Basel(1440), Bernt Notkein Lübeck(1463) and woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger(1538). Israil Bercoviciclaims that the Danse Macabre originated among Sephardic Jewsin 14th century Spain(Bercovici, 1992, p. 27).
Additionally see Aleksander Pushkin's verse play, "Feast in the Time of the Plague."
Because of its resounding recurrence throughout modern history, and its symbolismand connotation, the subject of or settingduring the Black Death has also become commonplace in modern literature. The relatively new medium of filmhas given writersand producersan innovative venue to portray the plague with more realism than ever. The movie classic Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) is a 1957filmdirected by Ingmar Bergman, most notable for the scene in which a medieval knight(played by Max von Sydow) plays chesswith the personificationof Death, with his life resting on the outcome of the game. The knight returns from the Crusadesand finds that his home country is ravaged by Black Death. To his dismay, he discovers that Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come for him too. In order to buy time he challenges Death to a match of chess, which allows him to reach his home and be reunited with his wife. The film explores the purpose of life and loss of faith, as the protagonist questions God's existence. The final scene of The Seventh Seal depicts a kind of Danse Macabre.
The 1988science fictionfilm The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey portrayed a group of 14th-centuryEnglishvillagerswho dig a tunnel to 20th-centuryNew Zealand, with the aid of a boy's vision, to escape the Black Death. Connie Willis's Hugo award-winning science fiction novelDoomsday Book (1993, ISBN 0553351672) imagines a future in which historians do field work by traveling into the past as observers. The protagonist, a historian, is sent to the wrong year, arriving in England just as the Black Death is starting. Likewise, Kim Stanley Robinson's alternate historynovel The Years of Rice and Salt(2002, ISBN 0553580078) presents a future dramatically changed by the Black Death, in which Christian Europe was almost completely destroyed and played no major role in future history.
It has been alleged (since 1961) that the Black Death inspired one of the most enduring nursery rhymesin the English language, Ring around a rosie, a pocket full of posies, / Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. However, this explanation is a literary interpretation without historical supporting evidence.
A Swedish captain named Johan Strandberg in Norrtälje in Stockholm's skerries is the last known victim of this disease with deadly outcome [year unknown].
Selected sources and further reading
- Giovanni Boccaccio(The Decameron)
Primary sources online
- Henry Knighton's account
- Agnolo di Tura's account
- Gabriele de' Mussi's account
- Marchionne di Coppo di Stefano Buonaiuti's account
- A Petrarch accountand More quotes from Petrarch
- Appleby, Andrew B. ?The Disappearance of the Plague: A Continuing Puzzle.? Economic History Review 33, 2, 1980 161-173.
- Deaux, George (1969). The Black Death 1347. New York: Weybright and Talley. ISBN 0241015146.
- Derr, Mark. "New Theories Link Black Death to Ebola-Like Virus" The New York Times, Science Section, October 2 2001.
- Dols, Michael W. (1977). The Black Death in the Middle East Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 069103107X.
- Gottfried, Robert S (1983). The Black Death. New York: The Free Press. ISBN 0029123704.
- Herlihy, David (1997). The Black Death and the Transformation of the West. Cambridge: Harvard UP. ISBN 0674076133. This text is a definitive short text on the Black Death.
- Kelly, John (2005). The Great Mortality, An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. HarperCollins Publisher Inc., New York, NY. ISBN 0060006927
- Marks, Geoffrey (1971). The Medieval Plague: The Black Death of the Middle Ages New York; Doubleday. ISBN 0385006306.
- McNeill, William H. (1976). Plagues and People. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 0385121229.
- Scott, Susan and Duncan, Christopher. (2004). Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer West Sussex; John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 04700900006
- Slack, Paul. ?The Disappearance of the Plague: An Alternative View.? Economic History Review 34, 3. 1981 469-476.
- Ziegler, Phillip (1969). Black Death. ISBN 0061315508
Secondary sources online
- The History Guide "Satan Triumphant: The Black Death"
- Symptoms, causes, pictures of bubonic plague
- Overview of the black death
- BBC news story on controversy over Black Death origins
- Examination of "Ring around the Rosy"'s relationship to the plague
- Black Death Overview from BBC
- Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe. Primary source documents and analysis.
- Secrets of the Dead . Mystery of the Black DeathPBS
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- Great Famine of 1315-1317
- Great Plague of London
- Hundred Years' War
- Plague of Justinian
- Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
- Plague Riot
- Third Pandemic
- Abandoned village
- Little Ice Age
- Avignon papacy
- Peasants' Revolt
- List of Bubonic plague outbreaks
Categories: Euroasian history| History of Asia| History of Europe| History of the Middle East| Middle Ages| Pandemics
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black+Death Wikipedia article Black Death.