As a case study of what can happen when the plague infects a community, Florence is a good place to begin since it was the crown jewel of the Mediterranian city-states. By the 14th century, Florence had minted its own coins and had its own independent political and governing structure. The city itself is estimated to have had a population of around 100,000 while outside of the city there were an additional 400,000 people; these are population levels not seen since the Roman Empire.
Florence at this time was immensely wealthy. City officials thought art and aesthetics were important to the city life and commissioned many works of art to beautify the city. Many poets and artists emerged who could hold down a living purely by their artistic craft. Deeply religious in their Christian piety, the city was defined by submission to God. A unique city in its social composition.
Once the plague finally struck Florence, 60-80 people were dying per day. In response, city officials ordered that the clothes of all those infected and dying be destroyed. Officials also ordered all prostitutes to be removed from the city out of concern for the moral question (and whether the plague was God’s judgment for immorality). Leaders also barred access from other areas in which the plague was known; breaking the quarantine around these areas would result in a massive fine. Even though a health board was established, this did little to slow the plague. By August, there were 400 deaths per day from the plague. By 1352, just four years after the plague hit, the population of the city was halved with over 60,000 people having died.
Economically, the plague had a dramatic effect on Florence. By the mid-1350s, the wages of a skilled laborer increased by 200%. Unskilled laborers also found their wages increased by 3%. Interestingly, one of the few groups who found themselves not better off after the plague was the nobility.
Considering all that had happened in Florence, one might have expected the dissolution of the city-state back into relative poverty, to be overtaken by aggressive neighbors who had been spared the plague or who had recovered from the plague. This isn’t what happened, though. After the crisis, the city leaders re-asserted control: city officials who rode out the plague outside of the city were subject to a huge fine. Though there was some concern that the plague might have disrupted the top-down power-structure a la “The Chompy Revolt,” with the peasants taking power, the government formed by the revolt was soft and old elites clawed their way back to power and re-established some idea of the old government. Unsurprisingly, this narrative of working-class power asserting itself in a heavily depopulated world transpired all over the medieval world (such as the Peasants Revolt in 1381 in England). Another aspect which showed the strength of the Florence government was its rapidly in providing for the large new underclass of women and children who were without their patriarchal providers; by 1348, the “guild of guilds,” began diverting resources from their massive savings to help the many widows and orphans. This was helped by the plague indirectly concentrating wealth unto single individuals (since many children and inheritors died, wealth would often end up in the hands of only one person): with no one to pass the wealth to, many people specified in their wills that their guild should receive their wealth. Meanwhile, the leaders of the city began to promote a policy of natalism, of marriage and childbirth to help rebound the population of the city; this policy was helped due to guilds donating doweries to women in need so as to make them viable marriage candidates.
Despite the best efforts of the city officials to reboot the city, the population never rebounded. Why is because of the recurrent plague outbreaks which would impact Florence no less than fourteen additional times. All though these additional outbreaks were not as severe as that first devastating wave, it did make it impossible for population levels to recover with any definitive meaning. in 1427 it is estimated that the population had only been 37% of what it had been 1347. A true demographic recover didn’t happen until late in the 15th century.