Truck loaded with plague victims in Elliant drawn by a woman with tattered clothes. Moynet lithograph based on Duveau’s Collections.

The Black Death: the Plague that Sowed Terror and Death in Medieval Europe - Part 1

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Transmission and Spread of the Bubonic Plague

All indications suggest that the bubonic plague was transmitted via boats and caravans containing infected people, rats, and fleas. Large commercial cities were the main destinations and thus the centers of spreading the plague through waterways and popular land routes. With the data available today we know that the spread by sea could exceed 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) per day, while on land ranging between 0.3- 1.2 miles (0.5 -2 kilometers) a day.

Although many fled to the countryside, the fact was that cities were safer because, as has been noted, the progression of infectious diseases is slower in nuclei with higher density of population. Such escapes just led to greater spread of the disease, not freedom from its grasp.

As to the number of deaths caused by the bubonic plague in Europe, we can now say that the mortality rate for the population was likely close to 60%.

In the Iberian Peninsula, for example, the data indicates that the population fell from 6 million to 2.5 million. In southern France records confirm that died between 55% -70% of notaries. These percentages were similar to death rates for members of the English clergy. Meanwhile, in Tuscany almost 60% of the population died of the plague, Florence and its over 90,000 inhabitants were cut down to just 60,000. In absolute terms, of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, there were only 30 million left just seven years later, in 1353.

Of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, only 30 million remained in 1353 because of the plague."Dance Macabre" by Michael Wolgemut.

Of the 80,000,000 people who inhabited Europe in 1346, only 30 million remained in 1353 because of the plague."Dance Macabre" by Michael Wolgemut. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Featured image: Truck loaded with plague victims in Elliant drawn by a woman with tattered clothes. Moynet lithograph based on Duveau’s Collections. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Coming next in Part 2: The Deadly Bacteria behind the Bubonic Plague

Author: Mariló TA

This article was first published in Spanish at www.ancient-origins.es and has been translated with permission.

References:

California investigates possible second case of plague visited Yosemite. CNN in Spanish.

National Geographic - The Black Death, the most mortifying epidemic.   http://www.nationalgeographic.com.es/articulo/historia/grandes_reportajes/7280/peste_negra_epidemia_mas_mortifera.html?_page=2

What caused the Black Death in Europe? BBC - 24/02/2015  http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/02/150224_peste_negra_gerbillos_lp

Medical Encyclopedia. Death.   https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/ency/article/000596.htm

Stories of our history. The Black Death.  http://hdnh.es/la-peste-negra/

 

Comments

Has any research shown where the Mongols came  into contact with the disease?

My Slovak/Hungarian grand parents told me stories past down from generation to generation. During the Black death she said he entire mountain village was uninfected with it. They would travel to the lower villages and find everyone with the plague. My grandmother would say the mountain air kept them healthy.

Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?

The article says that the plague bacterias don't like big shifts in temperature; that could be a reason.
And it could have something to do with how the inhabitants of the mountain villages got into the lower villages: I heard in a documentary that the fleas that spread the plague didn't like the smell of horses and horse dung.

How would the flees travel with the mongols with their horsemen army?

The fact that the plague spread to Europe was apparently due to gerbils spreading big time because of a temporarily changing climate and trade between Asia and Europe both by land and ship. Actually what I remember reading yesterday somewhere is that the Mongols wheren't hit by the plague that much because there were so many horses in their vicinity.

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