The Black Death


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To accommodate the growth, forests were cleared and mountain villages settled wherever it was possible for people to eke out a living. People had to opt for a more one-sided husbandry, particularly in animals, to create a surplus that could be traded for staples such as salt and iron, grain or flour. These settlements operated within a busy trading network running from coasts to mountain villages.

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And with tradesmen and goods, contagious diseases reached even the most remote and isolated hamlets. Most people believed plague and mass illness to be a punishment from God for their sins.

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Of particular importance was the sudden appearance of the plague over vast distances, due to its rapid transportation by ship. Ships travelled at an average speed of around 40km a day which today seems quite slow.

The Great Plague (Black Death Documentary) - Timeline

However, this speed meant that the Black Death easily moved km in a fortnight by ship: spreading, in contemporary terms, with astonishing speed and unpredictability. By land, the average spread was much slower: up to 2km per day along the busiest highways or roads and about 0. As already noted, the pace of spread slowed strongly during the winter and stopped completely in mountain areas such as the Alps and the northerly parts of Europe. Yet, the Black Death often rapidly established two or more fronts and conquered countries by advancing from various quarters.

The epidemic broke loose in early July. In North Africa and the Middle East, it started around September 1st, having arrived in Alexandria with ship transport from Constantinople. Its spread from Constantinople to European Mediterranean commercial hubs also started in the autumn of It reached Marseilles by about the second week of September, probably with a ship from the city.

Then the Italian merchants appear to have left Constantinople several months later and arrived in their home towns of Genoa and Venice with plague on board, some time in November. The spread out of Pisa is characterized by a number of metastatic leaps. These great commercial cities also functioned as bridgeheads from where the disease conquered Europe.

In Mediterranean Europe, Marseilles functioned as the first great centre of spread. En route to Spain, the Black Death also struck out from the city of Narbonne north-westwards along the main road to the commercial centre of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast, which by the end of March had become a critical new centre of spread. Thus, two northern plague fronts were opened less than two months after the disease had invaded southern Spain. Another plague ship sailed from Bordeaux, northwards to Rouen in Normandy where it arrived at the end of April.

There, in June, a further plague front moved westwards towards Brittany, south-eastwards towards Paris and northwards in the direction of the Low Countries. The significance of ships in the rapid transmission of contagion is underscored by the fact that at the time the Black Death landed in Weymouth it was still in an early phase in Italy.

From Weymouth, the Black Death spread not only inland, but also in new metastatic leaps by ships, which in some cases must have travelled earlier than the recognized outbreaks of the epidemic: Bristol was contaminated in June, as were the coastal towns of the Pale in Ireland; London was contaminated in early August since the epidemic outbreak drew comment at the end of September.

Dissecting the cause of the Black Death | NHGRI

Commercial seaport towns like Colchester and Harwich must have been contaminated at about the same time. From these the Black Death spread inland. The early arrival of the Black Death in England and the rapid spread to its southeastern regions shaped much of the pattern of spread in Northern Europe.

The plague must have arrived in Oslo in the autumn of , and must have come with a ship from south-eastern England, which had lively commercial contacts with Norway. The outbreak of the Black Death in Norway took place before the disease had managed to penetrate southern Germany, again illustrating the great importance of transportation by ship and the relative slowness of spread by land.

The outbreak in Oslo was soon stopped by the advent of winter weather, but it broke out again in the early spring.

Soon it spread out of Oslo along the main roads inland and on both sides of the Oslofjord. The opening of the second plague front was the reason that all Norway could be conquered in the course of It disappeared completely with the advent of winter, the last victims died at the turn of the year. Again ship transport played a crucial role, this time primarily by Hanseatic ships fleeing homewards from their trading station in Oslo with goods acquired during the winter.

On their way the seaport of Halmstad close to the Sound was apparently contaminated in early July. However, the voyage homewards to the Hanseatic cities on the Baltic Sea had started significantly earlier. A ship that left Oslo at the beginning of June would probably sail through the Sound around June 20th and reach Elbing in the second half of July, in time to unleash an epidemic outbreak around August 24th. Other ships that returned at the end of the shipping season in the autumn from the trading stations in Oslo or Bergen, brought the Black Death to a number of other Hanseatic cities both on the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.


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The advent of winter stopped the outbreaks initially as had happened elsewhere, but contagion was spread with goods to commercial towns and cities deep into northern Germany. In the spring of , a northern German plague front was formed that spread southwards and met the plague front which in the summer of had formed in southern Germany with importation of contagion from Austria and Switzerland. Napoleon did not succeed in conquering Russia. Hitler did not succeed.

But the Black Death did. It entered the territory of the city state of Novgorod in the late autumn of and reached the town of Pskov just before the winter set in and temporarily suppressed the epidemic; thus the full outbreak did not start until the early spring of Black Death. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Cartwright, Mark. Last modified June 20, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 Jun This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. We publish the digital edition of Timeless Travels , the unique magazine for lovers of history, culture, and travel.


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Remove Ads Advertisement. Bibliography Anonymous. Chambers Dictionary of World History. Chambers Harrap, Coss, P. Boydell Press, Daniels, P. National Geographic, Davies, N. Harper Perennial, Keen, M.

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The Penguin History of Medieval Europe. Penguin Books, Leyser, H. Medieval Women. Sussman, G. About the Author Mark Cartwright. Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests include pottery, architecture, world mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. Related Content Filters: All. Articles 3.


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During the reign of the emperor Justinian I CE , one of Help us write more We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Broadway Books 01 February Harper Perennial 31 January Martin's 23 December That chain may have stretched far beyond Russia. Thanks to a series of recent findings, the notion that plague remained in Europe for centuries after the Black Death, rather than arriving in repeated waves from Asia as historians long assumed, is gaining ground.

Using DNA from the teeth of five individuals who died in , the group found that the Y.

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His team studied skeletons from a cemetery near the Tower of London firmly dated to —, in the wake of the Black Death, as well as from a Barcelona cemetery radiocarbon-dated to the midth century. The Russian evidence comes from a site that included coins from ; the burial is estimated to have taken place between the early s and DNA sequencing from all three places revealed the same strain of Y. This strain appears to be the ancestor of the one that killed millions in 19th century China, based on phylogenetic clues.

Krause adds that the plague affecting Madagascar as recently as last year also seems genetically related to the variety that spread east from Europe in the 14th century. Researchers are eager to create a plague family tree in order to understand the movements and impact of different varieties of Y.

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