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Chronicle Spreading of the Black Plague

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The epidemic had a period of “forerunners”. In the period from 1100 to 1200, plague epidemics were observed, but the plague also penetrated into Syria and Egypt. The population of Egypt was particularly hard hit, having lost more than a million people to the epidemic.

1338-1339, Lake Issyk-Kul. Lake Issyk-Kul is considered the turning point from which the plague began its journey to the West, where, at the end of the 19th century, Russian archaeologist Daniil Khvolson noted that the number of gravestones in the local Nestorian community, dated 1338-1339, was catastrophically large. On one of these tombstones, which still exist today, Chvolson managed to read the inscription: “Kutluk rests here. He died of the plague with his wife Magnu-Kelka. ” In the future, this interpretation was questioned, and it was indicated that the name of the disease should rather be understood as a “moronic fad”, by which any infectious disease could be implied, but the coincidence of dates indicates that it was with very high probability that the plague started to spread, to the west.

1340-1341, Central Asia. Again for the next few years, there are no accurate data on the progress of the plague to the west. It is assumed that its outbreaks occurred in Balasagun in 1340, then Talas in 1341 and, finally, Samarkand.

October-November 1346, the Golden Horde. In 1346, the plague appeared in the lower reaches of the Don and the Volga, devastating the capital of the Golden Horde khans Sarai and nearby cities.

According to the Norwegian historian Ole Benediktov, the plague could not spread to the northern and western directions due to the mutual hostility that was established between the Golden Horde and their tributaries. The epidemic stopped in the Don and Volga steppes, the Horde’s northern neighbors did not suffer in this way. But the southern path was open to the plague. Dividing into two sleeves, one of which, according to Persian sources, together with merchant caravans, which provided plague rats and fleas with a very convenient means of transportation, reached the Middle East through the lower reaches of the Volga and the Caucasus Mountains, while the second by sea reached the Crimean Peninsula.

1346, the Crimean peninsula. Together with the merchant ships, the plague penetrated into the Crimea, where, according to Arab historian Ibn al-Vardi (who, in turn, drew information from merchants trading on the Crimean peninsula), 85 thousand people died from something unknown.

All the European chronicles of that time agree that the Genoese ships, trading throughout the Mediterranean, brought the plague to Europe. About how this happened, there is a story by an eyewitness, Genoese notary Gabriel de Mussis, by many researchers, however, considered dubious. In 1346, he ended up in a Genoese trading post at Kaffa, besieged by the troops of the Golden Horde Khan Janibek. According to de Mussis, after the plague began in the Mongolian army, the khan ordered catapults to throw the corpses of the dead from the disease to Kaffa, where an epidemic immediately began. The siege amounted to nothing, as the army weakened by the disease was forced to retreat, while the Genoese ships from Kaffa continued sailing, carrying the plague further across all Mediterranean ports.

The de Mussis manuscript, which is now in the library of the University of Wroclaw, was first published in 1842. The writing is not dated, but the time of writing is easily set by the events described. Currently, some researchers question the information contained in the manuscript, believing that, firstly, de Mussis was guided by the then understanding of the spread of the disease through the smell in the form of miasms, and the plague may have penetrated into the fortress with rat fleas, or, according to Michael Supotnitsky, Mussis, returning to Italy and finding the beginning of an epidemic there, mistakenly associated it with the return of the Genoese ships. However, the hypothesis of the “biological war of Khan Janibek” had its own advocates. Thus, the English microbiologist Mark Willis, in turn, indicates that under the conditions then the besieging army was located quite far from the city at a safe distance from the enemy’s arrows and shells, while rats do not like to go far from their holes. He also draws attention to the potential possibility of infection from a corpse through small wounds and abrasions on the skin, which gravediggers could undergo.

Spring of 1347, Constantinople. The next outbreak of the disease occurred in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in which the Genoese trading post was located in one of the suburbs – Pere. One of the victims of the plague was thirteen-year-old Andronik, the youngest son of Emperor John Kantakuzin. The emperor himself left in his “History” a story about the epidemic in the city and the further spread of the disease on the coast of Anatolia, the Aegean islands and the Balkans. The Byzantine historian Nikifor Grigora wrote about a ” serious plague-like illness”, from which ” in most houses all the living people died out at once.” According to the testimony of the Venetians, 90% of the population of the city died out, and although historians consider this figure exaggerated, the death rate in the city was indeed very high.

Spring-summer 1347, the Middle East. The plague began to spread in Mesopotamia, and Persia, in September of the same year it appeared in Trabzon. The disease was carried along by refugees from Constantinople caught in the epidemic. Also, the plague was carried with them through merchant caravans. At this time, the speed of its movement decreased significantly, covering about 100 km per year, only two years later the plague was able to reach the Anatolian mountains in the west, where its further advance was stopped by the sea.

Autumn 1347, Alexandria. The Egyptian historian Al-Makrizi tells in detail about the arrival of a ship from Constantinople to Alexandria harbor, in which out of 32 merchants and 300 people of the ship’s team and slaves only 40 sailors, 4 merchants and one slave survived. Together with them, the plague came to the city, and further, climbing up the Nile, reached Aswan in February 1349, during which time it completely devastated the country. In the further advance to the South, the Sahara Desert became an insurmountable barrier for plague rats and fleas.

Morov fad spread to Greece and further to Bulgaria and Western Romania (at that time the former part of the Hungarian kingdom) up to Poland, covered Cyprus, where one more catastrophe was added to the epidemic – the tsunami. The desperate Cypriots, out of fear of rebellion, slaughtered the entire Muslim population of the island.

October 1347, Messina. Although the Genoese chronicles keep complete silence about the spread of plague in southern Italy, the region suffered from it no less than the rest. Sicilian historian Michele de Piazza in his “ Secular History ” he tells in detail about the arrival of 12 Genoese galleys to the port of Messina, which brought with them a “ deadly scourge”. This number, however, varies; someone mentions “three ships laden with spices, ” some four, “with a crew of infected sailors,” returning from the Crimea. According to the testimony of de Piazza, “the corpses remained lying in the houses, and not a single priest, not a single relative — whether the son, father or any of the relatives — did not dare enter there: they promised the grave-diggers a lot of money to carry out and bury the dead. The houses of the dead stood unlocked with all the treasures, money, and jewels; if someone wanted to go there, no one blocked his way . ” Soon the Genoese were expelled, but this could not change anything.

Autumn 1347, Catania. The population of the dying Messina tried to escape by a stampede, and, according to the evidence of the same de Piazza, many died on the road. The survivors reached Catania, where they were not waiting for a hospitable reception. People who heard about the plague refused to deal with the refugees, avoided them and even refused food and water. However, this did not save them and soon the city became almost completely extinct. “What can I say about Catania, a city now erased from memory?” Wrote de Piazza. The plague from here continued to spread across the island, Syracuse, Sciacca, and Agrigento suffered greatly. The city of Trapani was literally depopulated, becoming ” orphaned after the death of the townspeople.” One of the last victims of the epidemic was Giovanni Randazzo, the “cowardly Sicilian duke,” who tried unsuccessfully to escape from infection in the castle of St. Andrea. In total Sicily lost about a third of the population; after a year after the plague retreated, the island was literally littered with corpses.

October 1347, Genoa. The Genoese ships expelled from Messina attempted to return home, but the inhabitants of Genoa, who had already heard about the danger, drove them into the sea with the help of lighted arrows and catapults.Thus, Genoa managed to delay the start of the epidemic for two months.

November 1, 1347, Marseille. At the beginning of November, already about 20 noisy ships sailed around the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, spreading the disease in all ports where they would anchor at least briefly. Part of the Genoese squadron found shelter in Marseilles, spreading the plague in a hospitable city, and was expelled for the third time, in order to disappear with the dead crew finally into the sea. Marseille lost almost half of the population, but deserved the glory of one of the very few places where citizens of the Jewish religion were not persecuted and could count on shelter from rampaging crowds.

December 1347, Genoa. According to reports in Genoa, the epidemic began on December 31, 1347. According to modern estimates, 80 to 90 thousand people died in the city, but the exact number remains unknown. At the same time, the inhabitants of the islands became victims of the plague, one after another: Sardinia, Corsica, Malta, Elba.

January 1348, Venice. Effective administrative countermeasures managed to save Venice from chaos, but still could not stop the plague. According to various estimates, about 60% of the population died in the city.

January 1348, Avignon. Chronicles show that almost 80% of the population of Avignon, the residence of the Pope of Rome, died from the plague. Modern historians, believing that this figure is too high, believe that about 50% of Avignonians died out from the plague. In any case, the mortality was so great that there was not enough land for the burial of the bodies. Pope Clement VI was forced to consecrate the river, where the bodies of the dead were dumped from carts. Among others, the victim of the Avignon plague was Laura – the beloved muse of Francesco Petrarca.

December 1347 – March 1348, Mallorca. It is assumed that the plague was brought to Mallorca by ship arriving from Marseille or Montpellier, the exact date of its arrival has not been established. The name of the first victim on the island is known: one is Guillem Brass, a fisherman, a resident of the village of Ally in Alcudia. Plague devastated the island.

January — March 1348, Italian counties. In Tuscany, the plague was also brought by the Genoese. Since that time, the plague has left the ports, where it has been rampant until now, and began to move inland. The first city on her way was Pisa, the next was Pistoia, where, as a matter of urgency, the Council on Supervision of Public Health was modeled after the Venetian one. The bodies were ordered to be buried in tightly boarded coffins; graves to be dug no less than half a meter deep. In order not to sow panic, funeral services, funeral robes and the bells were forbidden. However, the estate characteristic of the Middle Ages also manifested itself – all these orders ” did not at all concern knights, doctors of law, judges and doctors of medicine, which can be given every honor at the request of their heirs “. Perugia, Siena, Orvieto tried not to notice the spread of the epidemic, hoping that the common fate would pass them – but, as it turned out, in vain. According to contemporaries, in Orvieto, the mortality rate was up to 90%, modern researchers, considering this figure exaggerated, believe, nevertheless, that about half of the population died from the plague.

March 1348, Spain. According to historians, the plague penetrated into Spain in two ways – through the Basque villages in the Pyrenees and in the usual way, through the ports – Barcelona and Valencia. By the beginning of 1348, the epidemic had spread to the peninsula, and Queen Aragon Eleanor had died from it. Alfonso XI, the King of Castile, died from an illness right in his camp during the siege of Gibraltar in March 1350.

Spring 1348, southern and eastern Mediterranean. The Alexandria plague appeared in Gaza, from where it spread to Syria and Palestine. Damascus lost almost half of its inhabitants, while the entire Arab East did not account for 30–40% of the population. Ibn Battuta, who described the plague in these places, said that Muslims arranged processions and kept a strict fast in order to calm down the wrath of Allah. A huge number of pilgrims poured into Mecca, bringing with them the plague to the Arabian Peninsula. Given that Medina, the second largest city associated with the name of the Prophet, was spared by an epidemic for unknown reasons, Mecca suffered severely from the disease, many people and students of local madrasas died in the city. A similar misfortune that occurred in the main religious center of Islam, led Muslims into confusion. In search of a solution, they, like their Christian neighbors, accused the Meccan Jews of bringing the wrath of Allah by their very presence in the holy city.

Spring 1348, Bordeaux. In the spring of 1348, the plague began in Bordeaux, where the youngest daughter of King Edward III, Princess Joan, who was on her way to Spain to marry the prince Pedro Castile, died from the disease.

June 1348, Paris. According to Raymond de Vinario, an unusually bright star rose in June on the western part of the Paris sky, regarded as a precursor of the plague. King Philip VI chose to leave the city, but the “quarrelsome queen” Jeanne of Burgundy did not survive the epidemic; then Bonn of Luxembourg, the wife of the dauphin John, died of the plague. The University of Paris lost many professors, so it was necessary to reduce the requirements for new applicants. In July, the plague spread along the northern coast of the country.

July — August 1348, Southwest England. According to a source known as the Chronicle of the Gray Monk, the port city of Melcombe became the gate of the plague, where the first cases of the disease were recorded on July 7, “on the feast of St. Thomas the Martyr.” According to other sources, Southampton and Bristol were the first to be infected, with the start of the epidemic ranging from the end of June to mid-August. It is assumed that the ships that brought the Black Death with them came from Calais, where hostilities were taking place shortly before. The British were returning with rich trophies (as the chronicler noted, “ there was almost no single woman not dressed in a French dress ”), and it is quite likely that a plague wand arrived on one of these dresses on the island.

As in France, in the coming of the plague blamed unbridled fashion, in particular, women’s dresses, were so tight that their owners had to put tails behind the skirts in order not to look too defiant. According to one of the legends, a cavalcade of such horsewomen with daggers, brightly and scandalously dressed, called upon the Englishmen the wrath of the Lord. Right during the festival, a thunderstorm broke out with heavy wind, lightning and thunder, after which a plague appeared on the islands in the form of a Virgin or an old man in black (or red) attire.

July 1348 The plague entered Rouen, where “there was no place to bury the dead,” swept over Normandy and appeared in Tournai, the last city on the Flemish border. Then she penetrated Schleswig-Holstein, Jutland and Dalmatia.

Autumn 1348, London. The plague spread to the British Isles from west to east and north. Starting in the summer, in September she already approached the capital. King Edward III, who still firmly kept the people from looting and panic, and officials from fleeing (there were courts in the country, Parliament sat, taxes were regularly levied), finally broke down and fled to one of the country estates, demanding sacred relics. His last order before leaving was the abolition of the winter parliamentary session of 1349. Following the king fled the higher clergy, which caused outrage of the people who felt abandoned to their fate; later it happened that runaway bishops were beaten and locked up in churches as a punishment.

In England, the plague was marked, among other things, by cattle raids. The causes of this phenomenon are unknown. According to one of the versions, the disease also acted on animals or, perhaps, the herds left without supervision were affected by foot and mouth disease or anthrax. The country was brutally devastated, according to modern estimates, nearly a thousand villages were deserted. In Pula, more than a hundred years after the epidemic, there were still so many empty houses that King Henry VIII was forced to give the order to repopulate them.

December 1348, Scotland. The Scots, being long-time enemies of the English, watched their disasters with satisfaction for some time. However, when they gathered in the Selkirk forest to destroy the bordering English lands, the disease spread to them. Soon the plague spread in the mountains and valleys of Scotland itself. The English chronicler noted on this occasion that “ their joy turned into crying when the Lord’s punishing sword … fell upon them violently and unexpectedly, striking them no less than the English, with ulcers and pimples ”. Despite the fact that the highlands affected the disease to a lesser extent, the epidemic cost the country a third of the population. In January 1349, a plague appeared in Wales.

December 1348, Navarre. Going towards each other, the “Spanish” and “French” plague met on the territory of the Kingdom of Navarre. Only 15 of the 212 local communities in Pamplona and Sangues (most of them were from small villages) were not affected by the epidemic.

Beginning in 1349, Ireland. In Ireland, an epidemic penetrated along with an infected ship from Bristol, and in a short time captured the island. It is believed that the Black Death played into the hands of the local population, mostly destroying the invaders, the British, seated in the fortresses, while the Irish in the villages and highlands almost did not suffer. However, this statement is disputed by many researchers.

1349, Scandinavia. The first plague appeared in the Norwegian Bergen, where, according to legend, was brought on one of the British ships that brought wool for sale. This ship, full of corpses, was near the coast and caught the eye of the locals, who did not disdain “coastal law.” Climbing aboard, they seized a load of wool, after which the disease spread to Scandinavia. From Norway, the disease penetrated into Sweden , after which it spread to the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary.

1349 Having struck Eastern Mediterranean, Mecca and Persia, the plague reached Baghdad.

In 1350, the black plague flag was raised above Polish cities. King Casimir III was able to keep the people from excesses against “outsiders”.

1352, Pskov. According to the Nikon Chronicle, “Bysk’s sea in Pskov is very strong throughout the whole of Pskov’s land, but soon death would happen: the blood of a man would bleed, and on the third day it would die, and death would be everywhere”. Further, the chronicles report that the priests did not have time to bury the dead. During the night, twenty to thirty corpses were brought to the church, so you had to put five to ten bodies in one grave and read the funeral service all at the same time. The Pskov horrified of what was happening, begged for help from the Novgorod archbishop Basil. He responded to the appeals, appeared in the city, but on his return he died on the Uza River on June 3.

1353, Moscow. Died 36-year-old Grand Duke Simeon the Proud. Even before his death, he buried two young sons. Prince Simeon’s younger brother ascended the throne. In Glukhov , according to the chronicle, not a single survivor remains. The disease also devastated Smolensk, Kiev, Chernigov, Suzdal and finally, going down to the South, disappeared into the Wild Field.

Around 1351-1353, the northern islands. From Norway, the plague hit Iceland. However, there is no consensus among researchers regarding Iceland. If Neyfi unequivocally identifies Iceland among the countries affected by the plague, Ole Benedicts, on the basis of Icelandic documents of the time, prove that there was no plague on the island.

Having devastated the Shetland, Orkney and Faroe Islands and reaching in the east the tip of the Scandinavian Peninsula and Greenland in the west, the plague began to decrease. In Greenland, an epidemic struck a local colony with a blow from which it could no longer recover and gradually fell into decay and desolation.

It is worth noting that certain regions of France and Navarre, as well as Finland and the kingdom of Bohemia, for unknown reasons, were not affected by the second pandemic, although later these areas were affected by a new epidemic in 1360–1363 and were affected later, during the numerous returns of the bubonic plague.


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