Category Archives: Publications and Resources

Second Pandemic Plague Genomes of the 18th Century

Guellil, M. et al. A genomic and historical synthesis of plague in 18th century Eurasia. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. (2020) doi:10.1073/pnas.2009677117


Plague continued to afflict Europe for more than five centuries after the Black Death. Yet, by the 17th century, the dynamics of plague had changed, leading to its slow decline in Western Europe over the subsequent 200 y, a period for which only one genome was previously available. Using a multidisciplinary approach, combining genomic and historical data, we assembled Y. pestisg enomes from nine individuals covering four Eurasian sites and placed them into an historical context within the established phylogeny. CHE1 (Chechnya, Russia,18th century) is now the latest Second Plague Pandemic genome and the first non-European sample in the post-Black Death lineage. Its placement in the phylogeny and our synthesis point toward the existence of an extra-European reservoir feeding plague into Western Europe in multiple waves. By considering socioeconomic, ecological, and climatic factors we highlight the importance of a noneurocentric approach for the discussion on Second Plague Pandemic dynamics in Europe.

Acceleration of plague outbreaks in London by historical sources

D. J. D. Earn/J. Ma/H. Poinar u. a., Acceleration of plague outbreaks in the second pandemic. Proc .Nat. Acad. Science USA (PNAS) 2020. – doi:10.1073/pnas.2004904117



Historical records reveal the temporal patterns of a sequence of plague epidemics in London, United Kingdom, from the 14th to 17th centuries. Analysis of these records shows that later epidemics spread significantly faster (“accelerated”). Between the Black Death of 1348 and the later epidemics that culminated with the Great Plague of 1665, we estimate that the epidemic growth rate increased fourfold. Currently available data do not provide enough information to infer the mode of plague transmission in any given epidemic; nevertheless, order-of-magnitude estimates of epidemic parameters suggest that the observed slow growth rates in the 14th century are inconsistent with direct (pneumonic) transmission. We discuss the potential roles of demographic and ecological factors, such as climate change or human or rat population density, in driving the observed acceleration.



The database of this article comes from historical records – the London Bills of Mortality, Parish registers, and wills and testaments. The last ones are the only reliable source for the 14th c. which allows a statistical approach. It seems remarkable to me, that no historian was a member of the team of authors, but the data used come  from the commercial company ancestry Corporate. Data series as the ones used in the PNAS articles are extremely significant, but digital publications of this kind of data are still insufficient.


Rainer Schreg


professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Second Pandemic Plague Genomes from Poland and Russia

Morozova, I. et al. New ancient Eastern European Yersinia pestis genomes illuminate the dispersal of plague in Europe. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B 375:20190569 (2020) doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0569


Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, has been prevalent among humans for at least 5000 years, being accountable for several devastating epidemics in history, including the Black Death. Analyses of the genetic diversity of ancient strains of Y. pestis have shed light on the mechanisms of evolution and the spread of plague in Europe. However, many questions regarding the origins of the pathogen and its long persistence in Europe are still unresolved, especially during the late medieval time period. To address this, we present four newly assembled Y. pestis genomes from Eastern Europe(Poland and Southern Russia), dating from the fifteenth to eighteenth century AD. The analysis of polymorphisms in these genomes and their phylogenetic relationships with other ancient and modern Y. pestis strains may suggest several independent introductions of plague into Eastern Europe or its persistence in different reservoirs. Furthermore, with the reconstruction of a partial Y. pestis genome from rat skeletal remains found in a Polish ossuary, we were able to identify a potential animal reservoir in late medieval Europe. Overall, our results add new information concerning Y. pestis transmission and its evolutionary history in Eastern Europe.

Second Pandemic Plague Genomes From Riga

Susat, J. et al. Yersinia pestis strains from Latvia show depletion of the pla virulence gene at the end of the second plague pandemic. Scientific Reports 10:14628 (2020), doi:10.1038/s41598-020-71530-9


Ancient genomic studies have identified Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis) as the causative agent of the second plague pandemic (fourteenth–eighteenth century) that started with the Black Death (1,347–1,353). Most of the Y. pestis strains investigated from this pandemic have been isolated from western Europe, and not much is known about the diversity and microevolution of this bacterium in eastern European countries. In this study, we investigated human remains excavated from two cemeteries in Riga (Latvia). Historical evidence suggests that the burials were a consequence of plague outbreaks during the seventeenth century. DNA was extracted from teeth of 16 individuals and subjected to shotgun sequencing. Analysis of the metagenomic data revealed the presence of Y. pestis sequences in four remains, confirming that the buried individuals were victims of plague. In two samples, Y. pestis DNA coverage was sufficient for genome reconstruction. Subsequent phylogenetic analysis showed that the Riga strains fell within the diversity of the already known post‑Black Death genomes. Interestingly, the two Latvian isolates did not cluster together. Moreover, we detected a drop in coverage of the pPCP1 plasmid region containing the pla gene. Further analysis indicated the presence of two pPCP1 plasmids, one with and one without the pla gene region, and only one bacterial chromosome, indicating that the same bacterium carried two distinct pPCP1 plasmids. In addition, we found the same pattern in the majority of previously published post‑Black Death strains, but not in the Black Death strains. The pla gene is an important virulence factor for the infection of and transmission in humans. thus, the spread of pla‑depleted strains may, among other causes, have contributed to the disappearance of the second plague pandemic in eighteenth century Europe.

Tropical Diseases in late medieval Northern Europe

K. Giffin/A. K. Lankapalli/S. Sabin u. a., A treponemal genome from an historic plague victim supports a recent emergence of yaws and its presence in 15th century Europe. Scientific Reports 10, 1, 2020, e36666.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-66012-x


The “application of a non-targeted molecular screening tool for the parallel detection of pathogens in historical plague victims from post-medieval Lithuania” enabled a Jena based research team to show ” the presence of more than one active disease in one individual. In addition to Yersinia pestis, we detected and genomically characterized a septic infection of Treponema pallidum pertenue, a subtype of the treponemal disease family recognised as the cause of the tropical disease yaws. Our finding in northern Europe of a disease that is currently restricted to equatorial regions is interpreted within an historical framework of intercontinental trade and potential disease movements. Through this we offer an alternative hypothesis for the history and evolution of the treponemal diseases, and posit that yaws be considered an important contributor to the sudden epidemic of late 15th century Europe that is widely ascribed to syphilis. “

For a German media report see:


Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Bronze Age plague from Lake Baikal

Along with the publication of 19 ancient human genomes from Paleolithic to Bronze Age Lake Baikal, Yu et al. published two Y. pestis genomes. Remarkably, the two individuals carrying plague show no Yamnaya-related ancestry, in contrast to all previously identified individuals infected with this LNBA plague branch. Another suprising result is that the closest Y. pestis strain in the phylogeny published so far was found in Estonia (Kunila2).

Yu, H. et al. Paleolithic to Bronze Age Siberians Reveal Connections with First Americans and across Eurasia. Cell [in press] (2020) doi:10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.037


Modern humans have inhabited the Lake Baikal region since the Upper Paleolithic, though the precise history of its peoples over this long time span is still largely unknown. Here, we report genome-wide data from 19 Upper Paleolithic to Early Bronze Age individuals from this Siberian region. An Upper Paleolithic genome shows a direct link with the First Americans by sharing the admixed ancestry that gave rise to all non-Arctic Native Americans. We also demonstrate the formation of Early Neolithic and Bronze Age Baikal populations as the result of prolonged admixture throughout the eighth to sixth millennium BP. Moreover, we detect genetic interactions with western Eurasian steppe populations and reconstruct Yersinia pestis genomes from two Early Bronze Age individuals without western Eurasian ancestry. Overall, our study demonstrates the most deeply divergent connection between Upper Paleolithic Siberians and the First Americans and reveals human and pathogen mobility across Eurasia during the Bronze Age.


MAA Webinar: The Mother of All Pandemics

The Mevieval Academy of America hosted a Webinar on 15 May 2020 with the title “The Mother of All Pandemics: The State of Black Death Research in the Era of Covid-19”.

Moderators: Winston Black (Independent Scholar) and Lori  Jones (Univ. of Ottawa)
Respondent: Monica Green (Independent Scholar)

Bibliographer: Joris Roosen (Independent Scholar)

Seeta Chaganti (Univ. of California, Davis)
Gérard Chouin (William & Mary)
Matthew Gabriele (Virginia Tech)
Robert Hymes (Columbia Univ.)
Nükhet Varlik (Rutgers University)
The whole record of the webinar is now available on youtube:

And the webinar is accompanied by an extensive bibliography.

Pest! Special exibition of the LWL Museum Herne (Germany)

It is an irony of fate that the biggest and most comprehensive exhibition about bubonic plague ever organized – the special exhibition Pest! by the LWL Museum for Archaeology in Herne (Germany) – had to be closed due to a pandemic. The exhibition opened on Sept. 20, 2019 and was supposed to end on May 10, 2020, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, the museum had to close its doors in mid-March.  Today the museum announced on its webpage that the exhibition will be reopened on May 5 and will be extended until November 15. Facing the current hygiene measures, the organizers adapted the already excellent exhibiton design and offer all audio files and the exhibition booklet now online. But the team was creative meanwhile and produced a video tour through the exhibition during the lockdown:

To give some perspective on the scope of the exhibition: It included 11 thematic sections from palaeogenetic discoveries of prehistoric plague to modern perception of plague and its history. In total around 300 objects are shown, more than 200 figures and illustrations, 11 pedagogical stations, and 3 movies on plague. The smallest object on display are Y. pestis bacteria on a microscope slide, the biggest object is the original anchor of Grand Saint Antoine, the “plague ship” which was responsible for one of the last European plague outbreaks 1720-1722 in Marseille. The exhibition includes also the iconic wall of “plague doctor” masks and the art installation “Totentanz” by the artist Claudia Pomowski.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue of almost 700 pages, including not only photos and descriptions of all objects, but also an extensive essay section of around 200 pages. The table of context can be below. The exhibition catalogue can be ordered directly from the museum shop in a special edition for 24.95 € or at your favorite book seller.

4 Impressum

5 Mitarbeiter Ausstellung und Katalog

7 Leihgeber, Partner und Förderer

14 Grusswort der Staatsministerin für Internationale Kulturpolitik im Auswärtigen Amt

15 Grusswort des Landschaftsverbandes Westfalen-Lippe (LWL)

16 Einführung, Stefan Leenen


20 Vom Pesthauch zu Yersinia pestis, Eine Geisel der Menschheit im Wandel der Zeit, Kay Peter Jankrift

30 Von der Seuchengeschichte der Pest zu einer Naturgeschichte ihres Erregers. Neue Einblicke durch alte DNA, Marcel Keller

48 Katzen, Ratten, Flöhe. Tiere als Überträger der Pest, Valeska Becker

56 Die Justinianische Pest. Ihre Auswirkungen bei den Alemannen und Franken im 6. und 7. Jahrhundert, Frank Siegmund

64 Üble Kerne unter der Haut. Neu erschlossene medizinische Quellen zur Beulenpest im frühmittelalterlichen China, Rudolf Pfister

74 Die transkulturelle Wirkung des Mongolensturms. Folgen für die religiös-medizinische Praxis in Zentral- und Ostasien, Yasmin Koppen

84 Die Justinianische Pest. Ausgelöst durch Klimaevents? Susanne Brather-Walter

92 Die 1340er-Jahre als Schlüsseljahrzehnt der »Great Transition«. Eine klimahistorische Perspektive auf den Vorabend des Schwarzen Todes, Martin Bauch, Annabell Engel

100 Papst und Pest. Avignon 1348, Ralf Lützelschwab

112 Die Judenverfolgungen zur Zeit des Schwarzen Todes. Am Beispiel der oberdeutschen Reichsstädte Ulm, Augsburg und Strasburg, Christian Scholl

122 da man die Juden zu Colne sluch. Das Pestpogrom in Köln von 1349, Tanja Potthoff, Michael Wiehen

132 Pestschätze. Ein (jüdischer) Schatzfundhorizont der Grossen Pest? Stefan Kötz

140 Der Friedhof im Dachgeschoss. Mittelalterliche jüdische Grabsteine in der Burg Hulchrath, Stefan Leenen

160 Die Toten von Byzanz. Die Seuche in der Stadt, Christof Paulus

168 Der Schwarze Tod. Seine Auswirkungen im Osmanischen Reich, Sevgi Aḡcagül

182 Die Pest bei Konrad von Megenberg und das Kärntner Erdbeben 1348. Skizzierung, Zusammenhänge, Rezeption, Lisa Glanzer

190 Chronik, Pestregimen und Pestsegen. Schriftliche Zeugnisse der Auseinandersetzung mit der Pest, Anica Schumann

198 Huldrych Zwinglis Pestlied. Die Pest als Wendepunkt der Reformation? Gorge Hasselhoff

206 Valet will ich dir geben. Passionsmystik als Verarbeitungsmuster im Pestlied des Valerius Herberger, Benedikt Bauer

212 Pestschriften in der frühen Neuzeit. Der Kurtze Bericht von Johann Bokel (1535-1605) als Beispiel, Ulf Wendler

230 Krankheit, Konzept und Kollektiv. Städtische Pestbewältigung und die Suche nach ihren Wurzeln, Katharina Wolff

242 London’s Dreadful Visitation. The Great Plague of 1665, Hazel Forsyth

256 Warum die Pest aus vormodernen Reichsstädten verschwinden musste. Süddeutsche Beispiele, Annemarie Kinzelbach

266 Fact or Fiction? Ein kritischer Blick auf den »Schnabeldoktor«, Marion Maria Ruisinger

276 Die Grand Saint Antoine. Das verfluchte Schiff, Michel Goury

286 Die Pest von 1720 in Marseille. Wirksamkeit und Schwächen eines Schutzsystems, Annick Riani

294 Albert Camus’ La Peste. Die Pest als Metapher und kollektive Grenzsituation, Lars Banhold

302 Die Toten tanzen in unserer Mitte. Gedanken zur Ausstellungsgestaltung, Stefanie Dowidat


310 Bereich 1 – Das Wesen der Pest

334 Bereich 2 – Vorgeschichte und Erste Pandemie

352 Bereich 3 – Zweite Pandemie, Ausbreitung und Erklärungen

376 Bereich 4 – Zweite Pandemie, Angst und Ventile

406 Bereich 5 – Zweite Pandemie, Medizin

442 Bereich 6 – Zweite Pandemie, Religion

468 Bereich 7 – Zweite Pandemie, Katastrophenmanagement

506 Bereich 8 – Zweite Pandemie, Erleben der Pest

534 Bereich 9 – Zweite Pandemie, Auswirkungen

568 Bereich 10 – Dritte Pandemie

620 Bereich 11 – Erinnerung


648 Literaturverzeichnis

688 Bildnachweis

688 Essays

690 Exponate

Hrsg. vom LWL-Museum für Archäologie, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Herne; Stefan Leenen, Alexander Berner, Sandra Maus. 2019.

Pest! Eine Spurensuche. Theiss, Darmstadt. ISBN 978-3-8062-3996-6.

696 S. mit etwa 700 farb. Abb., Bibliogr., 24 x 30 cm, geb. mit SU. wbg

The Microbiology of early Globalisation

Blog Entry based on an updated extract from my book “Jenseits von Rom und Karl dem Großen” (Vienna 2018):


Byzantinist/medievalist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences with a tendency to experiment with concepts and methodologies from global/environmental history, complexity studies, network analysis.

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The impact of plague

It is difficult to assess the impact of the plague. A new study related to the Justinian plague based on written sources comes up with the hypothesis, that is has been overestimated

  • Mordechai, Lee; Eisenberg, Merle; Newfield, Timothy P.; Izdebski, Adam; Kay, Janet E.; Poinar, Hendrik (2019): The Justinianic Plague. An inconsequential pandemic? In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. – doi:

Rainer Schreg


professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Ole Benedictow – Introduction & new publication

Dear all,

My monograph The Black Death and Later Plague Epidemics in the Scandinavian Countries: Perspectives and Controversies, Berlin: De Greuter, pp. 736, has just appeared: it is published in hardcover edition and also on the Internet in the form of Open access, De Greuter Open, . The book provides much new work on the Black Death, but also translations of works that so far has not been available in English. It also contains several long chapters that relate thoroughly to questions and controversies with respect to the presence of black rats in the Nordic countries (pp. 395-451 with three maps), transmission and dissemination by human ectoparasites, and the early-phase transmission theory or hypothesis rather (as long its advocates cannot explain how pathogenic doses of plague bacteria in the foregut of fleas are moved into a new bite site against the strong stream of a new blood meal).

This involves also the gathering together and presentation of all data on plague bacteraemia in rats and human beings to clarify their potential roles as sources of infection of feeding fleas and lice, the prevalence of bacteremia in rats and human beings measured as number of plague bacteria per mL (mm3) of blood, the volume of blood fleas or lice ingest (µL), and, thus, the potential role of human ectoparasites and rat fleas in the transmission and dissemination of plague bacteria. Finally, there is discussion of border values of Lethal Doses of transmission in the case of human beings and the presence and conditions for transmission of LDs of plague bacteria. There are also studies of the pattern, rhythm and seasonality of the spread of plague epidemics as reflections of and, thus, sources of information on the processes of transmission and dissemination.

The introductory general chapter on plague contains also two specific subchapters that really are lengthy articles. In Chapter 1.5, all paleobiological data on finds of aDNA or F1 antigen of Y. pestis in putative plague graves are gathered together with a comprehensive presentation of the research history and achievements of the new discipline of paleobiology in plague-related research, pp. 73-99. Chapter 1.4, reverts to the topic of alternative theories of plague, in this case an epidemiological alternative, which so far has not been addressed seriously and critically: ‘Serious Plague History under Pressure: The Twelfth Theory of Historical Plague. Comments on the Recent paper “Climate-driven Introductions of the Black Death and Successive Plague Reintroductions into Europe”, pp. 35-72. The relevant points on the role of human ectoparasites in the epidemiology of plague are discussed in the chapters mentioned above.

I will be grateful for all critical and supplementary reactions, which can come to good use now that my English publisher has asked me to write a 2nd edn. of my monograph on the Black Death and I am working on it to the hilt. This is also the case with respect to my previous monograph What Disease was Plague? On the Controversy over the Microbiological Identity of Plague Epidemics of the Past, Leiden: Brill , pp. 746.

Happy New Year to all,

Ole J. Benedictow
Emeritus Professor,
Department of History,
University of Oslo

The European Black Death as the Source of Ancient and Modern Plague Pandemics

Again a study on the genetic history of the plague.

Rainer Schreg


professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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The Bronze Age Plague

A new study refers to the presence of yersinia pestis in Europe during the late neolithic/early bronze age:

  • Simon Rasmussen/ Morten Erik Allentoft/ Kasper Nielsen/ Ludovic Orlando/ Martin Sikora/ Karl-Göran Sjögren/ Anders Gorm Pedersen/ Mikkel Schubert/ Alex Van Dam/ Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel/ Henrik Bjørn Nielsen/ Søren Brunak/ Pavel Avetisyan/ Andrey Epimakhov/ Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin/ Artak Gnuni/ Aivar Kriiska/ Irena Lasak/ Mait Metspalu/ Vyacheslav Moiseyev/ Andrei Gromov/ Dalia Pokutta/ Lehti Saag/ Liivi Varul/ Levon Yepiskoposyan/ Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén/ Robert A. Foley/ Marta Mirazón Lahr/ Rasmus Nielsen/ Kristian Kristiansen/ Eske Willerslev: Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago. Cell 163/3, 2015, 571–582 (22.10.2015). – DOI: – open access!

If these hypothesis of a y.p. as a major trigger of the cultural and demographic changes at the end of the neolithic can be verified, comparisons with the 14th c. crisis will be of some interest. Prehistoric archaeology should check for indications e.g. of wheather extremes, the reorganisation of land use practices and increasing soil erosion in the time before the outbreak of the plague. Furthermore it should be tested, whether the health of the population was probably weak at that time.   However, by now neither the chronological nor the spatial framework of this postulated outbreak is clear.



Rainer Schreg


professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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A yet unknown reservoir of yersinia pestis in Europe

A new study provides data on long-term presence of yersinia pestis from 14th c. onwards by using analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA). The study is based on two different sites in Germany, spanning a time period of more than 300 years. One of them is the 14th c. mass grave at the St. Leonhard church in Manching-Pichl, which is still an extraordinary site in Germany. Of 30 tested skeletons 8 were positive for Yersinia pestis-specific nucleic acid. As there are some significant similarities between the y.p. evidence with other European findings, the authors conclude, that “beside the assumed continuous reintroduction of Y. pestis from central Asia in multiple waves during the second pandemic, long-term persistence of Y. pestis in Europe in a yet unknown reservoir host has also to be considered.”

In order to understand the 14th c. crisis it will be interesting to see whether their model in which Yersinia pestis “was introduced to Europe from Asia in several waves combined with a long-time persistence of the pathogen in not yet identified reservoirs” is also valid for the time between the 6th and the 14th c. as this has some consequences in understanding possible interaction between landscape changes, extreme weather and the Black Death.


Rainer Schreg


professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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