I use the term the Black Death in the specific meaning of the disastrous initial pandemic of 1348-1353. on which I published a second much augmented and updated edition of my 2004 book in 2021. https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781783275168/the-complete-history-of-the-black-death/.
Speculum published a whole issue on the topic of “Disease, Death and Therapy” with several articles related directly to plague. Moreover, on 14 Jan 2021, Speculum hosted a webinar with the authors; the recording will soon be publicly available.
Gayk, S. Apocalyptic Ecologies: Eschatology, the Ethics of Care, and the Fifteen Signs of the Doom in Early England. Speculum 96, 1–37 (2021) doi:10.1086/711658
Abstract: Exploring how late medieval texts imagined the promised destruction of the physical world, this essay offers an ecocritical reading of a single apocalyptic motif: the Fifteen Signs of the Doom. This once popular catalogue of ecological and cosmological portents of the Apocalypse encouraged environmental watchfulness, moved human experience from the center to the margins, and explored the humbling inscrutability of natural disaster. Surveying some of the Middle English sermons and lyrics that include this motif, this article considers how the practice of imagining the coming apocalypse by cataloguing wonders, natural disasters, and strange phenomena in the material world not only reminded human beings of their participation in a larger ecology but also invited them to reflect upon their responsibilities to and sympathies with the larger world.
McCormick, M. Gregory of Tours on Sixth-Century Plague and Other Epidemics. Speculum 96, 38–96 (2021) doi:10.1086/711721
Abstract: Analyzes philologically and historically all testimony in the works of Gregory of Tours about various epidemics that struck Gaul, Iberia, and Italy in the sixth century; in particular, those of the most serious disease, “inguinal epidemic,” that is, bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis), as well as an illness that may have been smallpox (Variola major). Establishes that Gregory’s testimony, inspired by his personal and pastoral-theological concerns, is reliable and informative; delineates the motivations and sources for reporting the recurring epidemics of plague as they emerge from his writings; shows that Gregory’s information is robust but geographically constrained: of the twenty-two places and regions where he knows unambiguously about plague, only four are further than 400 km from his familial Clermont (Fig. 1). Gregory’s twenty-two mentions of plague also refer to six epidemics between c. 543–47 and c. 591–94, of which he treats four in greater detail; his silences are confirmed to be significant only rarely. Two epidemics are newly dated to springtime, and the initial outbreak is shown as likely to have reached Gaul from a western port. Contagion mirrors communications infrastructures and affected the countryside as well as towns, which populations tended to flee. Symptoms, epidemiology, and heavy mortality align with the ancient DNA proof that the pathogen was Yersinia pestis; pneumonic plague is suggested in two cases. Gregory’s historical testimony is confirmed by and integrated into the new biomolecular archaeological discoveries of early medieval plague victims in western Europe.
Barker, H. Laying the Corpses to Rest: Grain, Embargoes, and Yersinia pestis in the Black Sea, 1346–48. Speculum 96, 97–126 (2021) doi:10.1086/711596
Abstract: When, how, and why did the Black Death reach Europe? Historians have relied on Gabriele de’ Mussi’s account of Tatars catapulting plague-infested bodies into the besieged city of Caffa on the Crimean Peninsula. Yet Mussi spent the 1340s in Piacenza; he had no direct knowledge of events in Caffa. Sources by people present in the Black Sea during the Second Pandemic, including Genoese colonial administrators, Venetian diplomats, Byzantine chroniclers, and Mamluk merchants, offer a different perspective. They show that the Venetian community at Tana played an important role in plague transmission; that it took over a year (from spring 1346 to autumn 1347) for plague to cross the Black Sea to Constantinople; that people crossed the Black Sea in 1346 but commodities did not because of a series of trade embargoes; that grain was one of the most important Black Sea commodities in both volume and strategic value; and therefore that the embargoes of 1346 delayed plague transmission by temporarily halting the movement of grain with its accompanying rats, fleas, and bacteria. When Venice, Genoa, and the Golden Horde made peace and lifted their embargoes in 1347, both the grain trade and the spread of plague resumed.
Curtis, D. R. From One Mortality Regime to Another? Mortality Crises in Late Medieval Haarlem, Holland, in Perspective. Speculum 96, 127–155 (2021) doi:10.1086/711641
Abstract: This article employs a large database of 10,360 deaths taken from registrations of graves dug and church bells tolled at Haarlem between the years 1412 and 1547—one of the largest samples and longest series of mortality evidence ever produced for medieval Holland—and systematically compares findings with a seventeenth-century burial register for the same city. It concludes that we should put aside any lingering notion that late medieval Holland was very lightly affected by epidemic diseases: in fact, in Haarlem, these mortality crises were more severe than those seen in the seventeenth century. The data also reveal not one overarching “medieval mortality regime” but distinct changes between fewer but more severe spikes in the first half of the fifteenth century, and higher frequency of smaller spikes later on—especially in the period 1480–1530—with the number of mortality crises damping down after 1530. These mortality crises tended to produce more adult female victims than male, supporting recent findings from elsewhere in the late medieval Low Countries.
Pieragostini, R. The Healing Power of Music? Documentary Evidence from Late-Fourteenth-Century Bologna. Speculum 96, 156–176 (2021) doi:10.1086/711571
Abstract: The idea of the healing power of music—rooted in Platonic and Aristotelian psychologies and Galenic humoral theory—has a long-standing tradition in European intellectual thought and occurs in several texts of the medieval and early modern periods. In contrast to the abundance of references in theoretical discussions, however, historians today face the scarcity of evidence documenting specific, actual uses of music as therapy. Among such rare evidence are two documents emanating from the chancery of late-fourteenth-century Bologna, which form the focus of this article. The documents, which concern a musician and an itinerant healer, provide new insights into musical practices directed in particular to the cure of psychic sufferings. The documents make clear that the secular authorities of Bologna considered the agency of these two practitioners and their medical and musical skills to be crucial for maintaining or restoring individual and collective health. The evidence discussed here suggests that the use of music toward curative ends must have been more widespread than hitherto acknowledged. It also highlights the powerful association between notions of musical healing and ideas of individual and civic well-being that underlay the Bologna officials’ idea of the state.
Kılınç, G. M. et al. Human population dynamics and Yersinia pestis in ancient northeast Asia. Science Advances 7, eabc4587 (2021) doi:10.1126/sciadv.abc4587
We present genome-wide data from 40 individuals dating to c.16,900 to 550 years ago in northeast Asia. We describe hitherto unknown gene flow and admixture events in the region, revealing a complex population history. While populations east of Lake Baikal remained relatively stable from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, those from Yakutia and west of Lake Baikal witnessed major population transformations, from the Late Upper Paleolithic to the Neolithic, and during the Bronze Age, respectively. We further locate the Asian ancestors of Paleo-Inuits, using direct genetic evidence. Last, we report the most northeastern ancient occurrence of the plague-related bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Our findings indicate the highly connected and dynamic nature of northeast Asia populations throughout the Holocene.
After Yu et al. 2020, this is the second Bronze Age plague genome from Lake Baikal. Since this paper was probably submitted before the publication of Yu et al. 2020, this is not discussed here, and the claim that they report the most northeastern Y. pestis genome does not hold true. Unfortunately, the coverage of their genome is extremely low, so it could not be phylogenetically assessed.
Guellil, M. et al. A genomic and historical synthesis of plague in 18th century Eurasia. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. doi:10.1073/pnas.2009677117(2020)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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”.
Bibliographer: Joris Roosen (Independent Scholar)
And the webinar is accompanied by an extensive bibliography.
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.
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
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
Sorry, this blogpost is in German. However, corrections are welcome.
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: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1903797116
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, https://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/212904 . 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
Department of History,
University of Oslo
Again a study on the genetic history of the plague.
- Maria A. Spyrou / Rezeda I. Tukhbatova / Michal Feldman / Joanna Drath / Sacha Kacki /Julia Beltrán de Heredia /Susanne Arnold /Airat G. Sitdikov /Dominique Castex /Joachim Wahl / Ilgizar R. Gazimzyanov /Danis K. Nurgaliev / Alexander Herbig / Kirsten I. Bos /Johannes Krause:Historical Y. pestis Genomes Reveal the European Black Death as the Source of Ancient and Modern Plague Pandemics. Cell Host & Microbe , Volume 19 , Issue 6 , 874 – 881. – http://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/abstract/S1931-3128(16)30208-6