CHAPTER 4 – AN ACIENT PLAGUE, THE BLACK DEATH
-Three great bubonic plague pandemics have occurred during the last 2,000 years.
They resulted in social and economic upheavals that are unmatched by those caused by
any armed conflict or any other infectious disease.
1.The first bubonic plague pandemic
542 to 543; in Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire
Contributed to Justinian’s failure to restore imperial unity.
Also called the Justinian Plague.
2.The second bubonic plague pandemic
1346 – 1352
By the time it dissipated in 1352, the population of Europe and the Middle East had
reduced from 100 million to 80 million people.
This plague was known as the Black Death, the Great Dying, or the Great Pestilence.
It put an end to the rise in human population that had begun in 5000 B.C.
Some believed that this catastrophic crash in population to be Malthus’s prophecy
come true, but others, such as historian David Herlihy believed that it allowed
Europeans to restructure their society along very different paths.
Many people believed that the cause of the plague was due to air.
-Today, we know that the source of the second pandemic was microbes left over
from the first pandemic.
-The microbes had moved eastward and remained endemic for seven centuries in
voles, marmots, and the highly susceptible black rate (Rattus rattus) of the arid
plateau of central Asia (Turkestan today).
•They moved westward along the caravan routes between Asia and the
Mediterranean known collectively as the Silk Road; plague travelled from
central Asia, around the Caspian Seas, to the Crimea.
•The rats boarded ships and moved from port to port and country to country,
spreading plague to the human populations living in filthy, rat-infested cities.
•The story of the Pied Piper who came to get rid of the rats.
The Black Death
-Most associated with Florence, one of the great cities of Europe at the time.
-It felt the full impact of the epidemic.
-Sometimes called the Plague of Florence.
-Symptoms as witnessed by Giovanni Boccaccio:
•Blood from the nose.
•The emergence of apple/egg-shaped tumors in the groin or armpit that grew
larger. It would then spread.
•Black spots begin to appear on arms and thighs, first few and large, and then
minute and numerous.