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The Black Death Medieval World HI127 ‘Those who fell ill lasted little more than two or three days, but died suddenly, as if in the midst of health – for someone who was healthy one day could be dead and buried the next. Lumps suddenly emerged in their armpits or groin, and their appearance was an infallible sign Buboes of death.’ Jean de Venette, Chronicle [France]: • chilly stiffness • tingling sensation • an extremely hard, solid boil • an acute and putrid fever • intolerable stench • vomiting of blood • drunken stupor • majority died between the third and fifth day The Symptons • • • • The Traditional Diagnosis: Bubonic Plague A bacterial disease (Yersinia pestis) Carried by rats and fleas Characterised by buboes Pneumonic form Problems with Yersinia pestis thesis (Samuel Cohn) • • • Modern plague travels slowly. Black Death travelled extraordinarily fast Scale of mortality. Modern plague has not proved very infectious. Contrast with Black Death. No immunity to the modern plague can be acquired. People could become immune to the Black Death. • • • • • • 1331- Central Asia along the Silk Route 1345-6 Southern Russia 1347 From Black Sea to Constantinople, Italy, eastern Mediterranean, near east 1348 France, Bavaria, England 1349 Northern England, Central Germany, Low Countries, Norway 1350 Sweden ‘This disaster chiefly overwhelmed the young and strong; the elderly and weak it generally spared... People who one day had been full of happiness, on the next were found dead.‘ Geoffrey le Baker, Chronicle [Oxfordshire] Death Rates • Impossible to know for certain • England c.40-55% • Coltishall in Norfolk 80% • San Gimignano (Tuscany) 75.9% Moral explanations • Divine punishment • Penitential response • But other moral explanations put forward – not all who die are guilty Scientific explanations • Corruption of the air • Humoural theories. Avoidance of strenuous activity to prevent unnecessary intake of air • Astrological explanations Scapegoating • Outsiders are sometimes blamed for spreading the disease (by, for example, poisoning wells). The poor, foreigners , travellers targeted. But main scapegoats are the Jews. Socio-economic consequences of plague • • • • Michael Postan argues that effects of Black Death have been exaggerated. Europe by c. 1300 is already experiencing crippling effects of a high population pressure. Malthusian ‘natural’ checks are causing population to shrink – delayed marriage, susceptibility to famine, soil exhaustion Disastrous effects of famine of 1315-1317 Causes of demographic depression • Why does the population of Western Europe not recover until the late 16th c.? • Deliberate changes in fertility, or renewed bouts of disease? Effects of decrease in population • Life becomes harder for landlords and peasants producing surplus because rents and the price of food are lower • Labourers are generally getting higher wages. More mobility, occupational flexibility.