Tiny Flea Annihilates Half the Medieval Population #MedievalMonday
In October 1347 twelve merchant ships arrived at Messina, Sicily, carrying silk and other goods purchased in Caffa, Crimea—the western end of the Silk Road. They also carried something that changed the world forever—fleas infected with bubonic plague.
Depending on the source, the statistics range from 30% to 60% of Europe was infected between 1348 and 1352. Some worldwide estimates range from 75M to 100M people died.
The chain of events starts with the rat flea. A flea bites an infected rat, causing its digestive track to be obstructed, the flea attempts to clear the blockage by regurgitating the blood. About three days later, the host begins to die, and the flea jumps to another host.
Poor living conditions aided in the spread of the disease. Most floors were covered in rushes—a long, thin, and hollow grass like stem used to weave rugs and baskets. The chamber pot (latrine) was not always used at night as some urinated in the corner. The wet, decaying rushes attracted rats and mice. The chamber pots were typically emptied in a stream, or near the house.
Thatched roofs attracted rats and mice that deposited their waste on the people, bedding, food, or the floor.
The plague(s) had three main and several minor forms. First, bubonic recognized by the rapid growth of many large blisters ranging from the size of an egg to a baseball. Life expectancy was less than a week. A majority of victims were infected by the bubonic version.
The second form was pneumonic, which passed by breathing the air from a victim. Life expectancy was one to two days.
The last type was septicemic which required contact with infected blood. The patient died from tiny blood clots throughout the body. Life expectancy was one to two days.
Little known plague facts:
- During a long siege, the plague infected Mongol army, catapulted the infected corpses over the city walls.
- The plague created a large labor shortage. (More in a later blog).
- Quarantine procedures were first used in 1377 at the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.
- There were smaller plague outbreaks about every twenty to thirty years until the early 1800’s.
- It was 1631 when the term “Black Death” was first used in a Danish book. It was called the “Great Pestilence” prior to that point.
- Monks and priests caring for the sick were infected at a rate more than twice the general population.
As a young boy at family gatherings, I recall listening to the men after a meal. The opinions around the subjects of politics, car brands, hippies, and rock n roll filled the room with energy like aromatic smoke from a pipe. But, when the story telling began everyone found a seat or patch of floor. We sat for hours absorbing the stories, fact or fiction, that shaped who we became and it strengthened our imaginations. Fifty years later I know that a world without imagination would be pretty boring.
More at the website www.AndeanWhite.com.