The First Wave Sweeps Across Europe (Quick Notes:5)
Sicily was uniquely positioned as a trading post. Because it was able to reach many major ports, it was also an instrumental locale in spreading the plague. In a matter of months, the tell-tale signs of the plague’s arrival were felt: the number of wills multiplied, friends abandoned one another, and family refused to care for their sick, mass graves appeared, and even a decline in thievery since thieves felt to cross into the area where a rich person once lived, meant almost certain death. Around half of the general population was killed.
Brothers in the Franciscan and Dominican Orders did their best to care for those afflicted. These Mendicant Orders were engaged with the world and refused to seclude themselves behind monastery walls. Many of these monks were stricken down from the plague.
Plague Travels by Water: why this was particularly deadly was because it meant it was almost impossible to escape. Not being confined by land, the overcoming of geographic barriers was easier than with common sicknesses. The plague, thus, was able to use multiple entries points and then spread inland thus infecting many people.
One eye-witness report speaks of a man, nicknamed “the fat,” burying his five children with his own hands and of some bodies being so sparsely covered, that the wild dogs dragged them up from their graves and eat them.
The Iberian Peninsula: carved into various independent communities like Italy and had a population of around 55,000 people. In the December of 1347 is when the plague likely crossed over from Marcy. One way to judge the progress of the plague was by looking at wills, as in other locations, but also by looking at the number of vacant benifices; which, after just a few months, jumped to over a 100.
In France, Avignon, the plague impacted. This was significant because, at this time, Avignon was the seat of the papacy (“The Great Babylonian Captivity”). This was beneficial to Rome since with the papacy gone, Rome had regressed to being a more rural community. This doesn’t mean that Rome was spared– far from it. But it does mean that compared to some other places, Rome was a swell place to eek out a living. Meanwhile, in Avignon, over 66,000 bodies were buried.
The plague infected the continent in a very haphazard manner– “pinpricks” of infection occur here and there only to later evolve into “waves” of infection.
The horror of the Black Death was such that professor Armstrong recounts how when she teaches the course to her undergraduates, she must relate it to post-apocalyptic stories like The Walking Dead, where the devastation is total and no one really knows what happened.