During the 1300’s, strong thirsts for power between countries, religious divisions in Europe, and competition for trade routes were common. Trade routes connected the Eastern Hemisphere with the trade of various goods and information, and controlling these trade routes proved to be rewarding. Unfortunately, these trades routes “also likely carried the deadly plague that killed as many as half of all Europeans within seven years, in what is known as the Bubonic Plague.”1
Beginning in 1348, Bubonic Plague infested merchant ships sailing from the Black Sea to Mediterranean ports, causing so much death that it was common for ships to enter European docks and harbors with at least the majority of the crew dead. Despite efforts to prevent ships from reaching land and spreading the disease, the Bubonic Plague made its way ashore. Unfortunately, people found out how contagious the Bubonic Plague was as it swept through Sicily, Italy, and into the rest of Europe. As a result of the virtual inability of people to stop the spread, many suffered and died.
At the height of the Bubonic Plague, it had spread from China to London, devastating entire villages and bringing trade to a virtual standstill. It has been estimated that as many as 200 million people lost their lives as a result of the Bubonic Plague. In fact, it had a mortality rate that varied between regions.2 Although the Black Death was responsible for killing millions of people in Europe, it was a strong force in influencing the structure of power in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Marchione di Coppo Stephani, a chronicler who lived through the ravages of the plague in Florence during the summer of 1348 wrote,
At every church they dug deep pits down to the water level; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit; they then took some earth and shoveled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagna with layers of pasta and cheese.3
It not only underlines the crisis for a major European city, generated by the death of tens of thousands of people, but also demonstrates how, even in recording such a profound crisis, a chronicler might evoke a homely, if provocative, image of lasagna.4 People believed that the world was coming to an end. Who was to blame? Other religions, or was it God punishing people for their sins?
As a result of much death and destruction on a scale that people have never seen before, people began wondering if God had been punishing them all along. There was no safe haven for people, even in isolated Russia, for the Black Plague did not hesitate to take any lives—every one was a target.
In the same year , God’s punishment struck the people in the eastern lands, in the town Ornach [on the estuary of the River Don], and in Khastorokan, and in Sarai, and in Bezdezh [at an arm of the River Volga], and in other towns in those lands; the mortality was great among the Bessermens, and among the Tartars, and among the Armenians and the Abkhazians, and among the Jews, and among the European foreigners, and among the Circassians, and among all who lived there, so that they could not bury them [sic]. 5
In fact, religious hatred and persecution was very inhumane and common. With the strong belief that other groups were responsible for the Plague, the methods involved in persecuting other religious groups were cruel. Some common examples were: burning, stoning, decapitation, and exile.
The Black Death was devastating. It had killed millions of people across Europe and Asia. Anarchy, fear, and insecurities dominated the landscape in Europe during the 1300’s.[ 5. Sharon N. DeWitte, “Age Patterns of Mortality During the Black Death in London, A.D. 1349–1350,” Journal of Archaeological Science 37, no. 12 (December 1, 2010): 3394-3400, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3094018/ (accessed October 12, 2016).]
I have alway had a general understanding of the Black Plague, but it is enlightening to become familiar with its affect on communities beyond its deadliness. It is disheartening to see how many people suffered during this time, the visual comparison to a lasagna created a horrific image and magnified the intensity of the situation. However, beyond death, the Black Plague pulled apart communities and caused chaos among them. As different religious groups began to pit themselves against one another, more and more people died not by defeat from the plague, but at the hands of their neighbor which is truly sad.