Why was Poland spared from the Black Death?

Why was Poland spared from the Black Death?

The featured image of the Wikipedia page for the Black Death is a gif showing the spread of the bubonic plague throughout Europe. There are a few places where the plague never spread to, including the area around Milan. But most notably, the entire Kingdom of Poland is spared, even as virtually every other region is infected.

The Wikipedia page itself just says the following:

The plague spared some parts of Europe, including the Kingdom of Poland, the majority of the Basque Country and isolated parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

But it never gives an explanation why Poland would be spared. Was Poland just lucky, or was something else at play?

Poland wasn't actually "spared", it was merely less affected than the rest of Europe. That graphic is incorrect (or rather, incomplete), since a substantial number of both Poland and Milan's population did in fact die of the plague. Their death rates were only "low" in comparison to the rest of Europe - if it happened today, it would be horrifying to us.

Poland lost about a quarter of its population to the plague (… ) Milan's death rate was less than 15%, probably the lowest in Italy save a few Alpine villages.

- Gottfried, Robert S. Black Death. New York: The Free Press, 1983.

Nonetheless, it is true that Poland did survive the Black Death relatively unscathed. In addition to Poland's relatively sparse population, a key factor is that King Casimir the Great wisely quarantined the Polish borders. By holding the plague off at the borders, the disease's impact on Poland was softened.

During Kazimierz's reign, the Black Death, a pandemic infection, swept across Europe, killing millions. But Poland established quarantines at its borders, and the plague skirted Poland almost entirely.

- Zuchora-Walske, Christine, Poland, North Mankato: ABDO Publishing, 2013.

The quarantine's effectiveness was further enhanced by Poland's relative isolation. While heavily hit regions such as the Mediterranean coast were densely interlinked with trade, the same was generally not true of Poland. When the Black Death arrived, this isolation helped insulate the Poles from the plague.

[M]uch larger areas, such as central Poland… locations 'off the beaten trail' and not along the more popular trade routes were more likely to be on the lookout for ill travelers, 'foreigners', or perhaps not even be visited by outsiders at all. We believe that it was the exclusion of medieval traders and pilgrims that would significantly account for the lightly-affected Medieval Black Death regions

- Welford, Mark, and Brian H. Bossak. "Revisiting the Medieval Black Death of 1347-1351: Spatiotemporal Dynamics Suggestive of an Alternate Causation." Geography Compass 4.6 (2010): 561-575.

Additionally, it has often been claimed that that Poland fared better due to having fewer rats. Two popular explanations offered for this theory is that Poland had more cats, or alternatively less food for rats.

The absence of plague in Bohemia and Poland is commonly explained by the rats' avoidance of these areas due to the unavailability of food the rodents found palatable.

- Cantor, Norman F. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made. Simon and Schuster, 2001.

It is, however, more likely that the local climate was simply less conductive to the plague's spread.

There are three types of plague, Pneumonic, Bubonic, and Septicemic all of which are caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. People infected by fleas get the bubonic form of the plague. However, if the bacteria reaches the lungs, it becomes pneumonic plague which is more virulent spreading via person to person by coughing then no rats are needed since the bacteria becomes airborne

Quite a lot of scientists now think that the plague was in fact airborne and not spread by rats, but by infected people with the Pneumonic form of the plague. This version spreads much faster and kills quicker. Thankfully antibiotics can today prevent the disease from becoming pneumonic (air-born)

Yersinia pestis can survive for at least 24 days in contaminated soil Up to 5 days on other materials link

The travel times and relative isolation were probably enough to stop most of the spread (explained in comments below)… Considering peasants were not allowed to travel in those days, most likely the plague was spread by traders, this is why the more dense populations were more affected.

With more remote populations kept safe especially since it could kill within 24 hrs of catching it probably those infected died before reaching their destination.

So to help get an idea of travel times: how the distances saved the population I've used this map - old travel routes of Europe http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Late_Medieval_Trade_Routes.jpg">http://www.terryburns.net/How_fast_could_they_travel.htm

As an aside I think most likely Milan had such a low mortality rate less than 15% because they understood it was people passing the plague to each other. They walled up not only the infected family but the houses on either side leaving them to die. Rats are really great climbers and would have escaped being walled up, just watch these little guys go! :P https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o4LrfnX9QQ

climbing up brick (the camera has trouble to keep up!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bt9Ukw1iB0

So if it had of been the rats spreading the plague walling would have made no difference at all, since they would have simply gone off to the next area and start infecting people again.


And even if Jews died at a lesser rate, it can be attributed to the sanitary practices Jewish law.

For instance, Jewish law compels one to wash his or her hands many times throughout the day. In the general medieval world a person could go half his or her life without ever washing his hands. According to Jewish law, one could not eat food without washing one's hands, leaving the bathroom and after any sort of intimate human contact. At least once a week, a Jew bathed for the Sabbath. Furthermore, Jewish law prevents the Jew from reciting blessings and saying prayers by an open pit at latrines and at places with a foul odor. The sanitary conditions in the Jewish neighborhood, primitive as it may be by today's standards, was always far superior to the general sanitary conditions.

Jewish law also prescribes certain sanitary conditions related to burial of the dead. Leaving corpses unburied not only abetted the conditions that spread the bubonic plague but typhus and other diseases as well. The Jews, on the other hand, had a unique sense of community that not only led them to feel a responsibility to attend to the sick and dying, but caused them to always maintain a formal burial society (chevrah kadisha), whose responsibility it was to make sure that any Jew who died was treated according to Jewish law, including washing the body before it was buried.

These are only a few examples how Jewish law preserved the Jewish people through this terrible dark period of plague. It imposed a sanitary standard on the Jew far above the ordinary sanitary standard that medieval Europe had

Source: https://www.jewishhistory.org/the-black-death/

It seems that there is a correlation between exposure to and surviving the plague and a genetic predisposition against infection with HIV that has a prevalence in Northern Europe that is not observed in Southern Europe:


One factor to consider also is that Poland had a much smaller population than western Europe. Around the time of the Black Death, the Polish population was something like 2-3 million, while the French population was about 14 millon or even higher. It's common sense that disease spreads more easily in higher population density areas, especially when hygiene is poor, as it was in the Middle Ages.

When I traveled Krakow last month, the tour guide explained Black Death affected less in Poland because they had life style sanitizing dishes with vodka.

No rats.

Endemic plague only persists in areas infested with rats, which occurred in urbanized areas of Europe, because people were throwing garbage into the streets.

In well-kept countrysides there was no plague, because there was not enough rats.

Poland was an agricultural country centered around manors, not large cities, hence no rats.

Note that to be infected you actually have to be bitten by the flea of the rat, so you literally have to be living with rats to be in danger.

Did fewer Jews die of the Black Plague because of ritual washing?

I've frequently heard the claim that fewer Jews died of the Bubonic Plague than their Christian neighbors in the Middle Ages because Jews took regular ritual baths (mikva) and ritually washed hands before eating (netilat yadaim), while the Christians rarely washed themselves. Supposedly this lead to antisemitism and harsh persecution because the Christians saw their Jewish neighbors surviving and assumed they had control of the plague and were deliberately cursing them. Is there any truth to this claim?

I found some sources making this claim from citations in the Wikipedia Article "Black Death Jewish persecutions":

Example from jewishhistory.org: "And even if Jews died at a lesser rate, it can be attributed to the sanitary practices Jewish law. For instance, Jewish law compels one to wash his or her hands many times throughout the day. In the general medieval world a person could go half his or her life without ever washing his hands."

Anna Foa, The Jews of Europe After the Black Death (2000), Page 146: "There were several reasons for this, including, it has been suggested, the observance of laws of hygiene tied to ritual practices and a lower incidence of alcoholism and venereal disease"

How was Poland spared during the Black Death?

Obviously, I’m aware they weren’t completely spared, that would be almost impossible. But in comparison to the rest of Europe, where places such as Italy, France, Germany and the UK were having a mortality rate of around 30-40%. I think it’s important to not read into too much of the chronicles of the time as the mortality rates are highly exaggerated. But reading through some articles and books it’s clear that the plague spread much through ports with flea infested rats on trading ships and from looking at a map of the least affected area there doesn’t seem to be an access via a shipping port, so possibly this had somewhat an affect on the lack of infection.

I spoke to a Polish bloke at work and he started rambling on about how they were spared because of God and the people of Poland prayed to be spared etc. But this was also the case all over Europe and despite all of this, members of the clergy whether it be monks, priests or bishops still perished and this can be seen in various parishes that had to replace members of clergy many times during the time the plague was rife in that area.

It just seems odd that in a section of Europe that was surrounded heavily by the pestilence, that it was barely affected. I think I read somewhere that only around 8% of the population was killed, although I’m not sure how accurate this source is.


European writers contemporary with the plague described the disease in Latin as pestis or pestilentia, 'pestilence' epidemia, 'epidemic' mortalitas, 'mortality'. [13] In English prior to the 18th century, the event was called the "pestilence" or "great pestilence", "the plague" or the "great death". [13] [14] [15] Subsequent to the pandemic "the furste moreyn" (first murrain) or "first pestilence" was applied, to distinguish the mid-14th century phenomenon from other infectious diseases and epidemics of plague. [13] The 1347 pandemic plague was not referred to specifically as "black" in the 14th or 15th centuries in any European language, though the expression "black death" had occasionally been applied to fatal disease beforehand. [13]

"Black death" was not used to describe the plague pandemic in English until the 1750s the term is first attested in 1755, where it translated Danish: den sorte død, lit. 'the black death'. [13] [16] This expression as a proper name for the pandemic had been popularized by Swedish and Danish chroniclers in the 15th and early 16th centuries, and in the 16th and 17th centuries was transferred to other languages as a calque: Icelandic: svarti dauði, German: der schwarze Tod, and French: la mort noire. [17] [18] Previously, most European languages had named the pandemic a variant or calque of the Latin: magna mortalitas, lit. 'Great Death'. [13]

The phrase 'black death' – describing Death as black – is very old. Homer used it in the Odyssey to describe the monstrous Scylla, with her mouths "full of black Death" (Ancient Greek: πλεῖοι μέλανος Θανάτοιο , romanized: pleîoi mélanos Thanátoio). [19] [17] Seneca the Younger may have been the first to describe an epidemic as 'black death', (Latin: mors atra) but only in reference to the acute lethality and dark prognosis of disease. [20] [17] [13] The 12th–13th century French physician Gilles de Corbeil had already used atra mors to refer to a "pestilential fever" (febris pestilentialis) in his work On the Signs and Symptoms of Diseases (De signis et symptomatibus aegritudium). [17] [21] The phrase mors nigra, 'black death', was used in 1350 by Simon de Covino (or Couvin), a Belgian astronomer, in his poem "On the Judgement of the Sun at a Feast of Saturn" (De judicio Solis in convivio Saturni), which attributes the plague to an astrological conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. [22] His use of the phrase is not connected unambiguously with the plague pandemic of 1347 and appears to refer to the fatal outcome of disease. [13]

The historian Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet wrote about the Great Pestilence in 1893 [23] and suggested that it had been "some form of the ordinary Eastern or bubonic plague". [24] [c] In 1908, Gasquet claimed that use of the name atra mors for the 14th-century epidemic first appeared in a 1631 book on Danish history by J. I. Pontanus: "Commonly and from its effects, they called it the black death" (Vulgo & ab effectu atram mortem vocitabant). [25] [26]

Recent research has suggested plague first infected humans in Europe and Asia in the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age. [28] Research in 2018 found evidence of Yersinia pestis in an ancient Swedish tomb, which may have been associated with the "Neolithic decline" around 3000 BCE, in which European populations fell significantly. [29] [30] This Y. pestis may have been different from more modern types, with bubonic plague transmissible by fleas first known from Bronze Age remains near Samara. [31]

The symptoms of bubonic plague are first attested in a fragment of Rufus of Ephesus preserved by Oribasius these ancient medical authorities suggest bubonic plague had appeared in the Roman Empire before the reign of Trajan, six centuries before arriving at Pelusium in the reign of Justinian I. [32] In 2013, researchers confirmed earlier speculation that the cause of the Plague of Justinian (541–542 CE, with recurrences until 750) was Y. pestis. [33] [34] This is known as the First plague pandemic.


Early theory

The most authoritative contemporary account is found in a report from the medical faculty in Paris to Philip VI of France. It blamed the heavens, in the form of a conjunction of three planets in 1345 that caused a "great pestilence in the air" (miasma theory). [35] Muslim religious scholars taught that the pandemic was a “martyrdom and mercy” from God, assuring the believer's place in paradise. For non-believers, it was a punishment. [36] Some Muslim doctors cautioned against trying to prevent or treat a disease sent by God. Others adopted preventive measures and treatments for plague used by Europeans. These Muslim doctors also depended on the writings of the ancient Greeks. [37] [38]

Predominant modern theory

Due to climate change in Asia, rodents began to flee the dried-out grasslands to more populated areas, spreading the disease. [39] The plague disease, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is enzootic (commonly present) in populations of fleas carried by ground rodents, including marmots, in various areas, including Central Asia, Kurdistan, Western Asia, North India, Uganda and the western United States. [40] [41]

Y. pestis was discovered by Alexandre Yersin, a pupil of Louis Pasteur, during an epidemic of bubonic plague in Hong Kong in 1894 Yersin also proved this bacillus was present in rodents and suggested the rat was the main vehicle of transmission. [42] [43] The mechanism by which Y. pestis is usually transmitted was established in 1898 by Paul-Louis Simond and was found to involve the bites of fleas whose midguts had become obstructed by replicating Y. pestis several days after feeding on an infected host. This blockage starves the fleas and drives them to aggressive feeding behaviour and attempts to clear the blockage by regurgitation, resulting in thousands of plague bacteria being flushed into the feeding site, infecting the host. The bubonic plague mechanism was also dependent on two populations of rodents: one resistant to the disease, which act as hosts, keeping the disease endemic, and a second that lack resistance. When the second population dies, the fleas move on to other hosts, including people, thus creating a human epidemic. [24]

DNA evidence

Definitive confirmation of the role of Y. pestis arrived in 2010 with a publication in PLOS Pathogens by Haensch et al. [3] [d] They assessed the presence of DNA/RNA with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques for Y. pestis from the tooth sockets in human skeletons from mass graves in northern, central and southern Europe that were associated archaeologically with the Black Death and subsequent resurgences. The authors concluded that this new research, together with prior analyses from the south of France and Germany, "ends the debate about the cause of the Black Death, and unambiguously demonstrates that Y. pestis was the causative agent of the epidemic plague that devastated Europe during the Middle Ages". [3] In 2011, these results were further confirmed with genetic evidence derived from Black Death victims in the East Smithfield burial site in England. Schuenemann et al. concluded in 2011 "that the Black Death in medieval Europe was caused by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist". [46]

Later in 2011, Bos et al. reported in Nature the first draft genome of Y. pestis from plague victims from the same East Smithfield cemetery and indicated that the strain that caused the Black Death is ancestral to most modern strains of Y. pestis. [46]

Since this time, further genomic papers have further confirmed the phylogenetic placement of the Y. pestis strain responsible for the Black Death as both the ancestor [47] of later plague epidemics including the third plague pandemic and as the descendant [48] of the strain responsible for the Plague of Justinian. In addition, plague genomes from significantly earlier in prehistory have been recovered. [49]

DNA taken from 25 skeletons from 14th century London have shown plague is a strain of Y. pestis almost identical to that which hit Madagascar in 2013. [50] [51]

Alternative explanations

It is recognised that an epidemiological account of plague is as important as an identification of symptoms, but researchers are hampered by the lack of reliable statistics from this period. Most work has been done on the spread of the disease in England, and even estimates of overall population at the start vary by over 100% as no census was undertaken in England between the time of publication of the Domesday Book of 1086 and the poll tax of the year 1377. [52] Estimates of plague victims are usually extrapolated from figures for the clergy.

Mathematical modelling is used to match the spreading patterns and the means of transmission. A research in 2018 challenged the popular hypothesis that "infected rats died, their flea parasites could have jumped from the recently dead rat hosts to humans". It suggested an alternative model in which "the disease was spread from human fleas and body lice to other people". The second model claims to better fit the trends of death toll because the rat-flea-human hypothesis would have produced a delayed but very high spike in deaths, which contradict historical death data. [53] [54]

Lars Walløe complains that all of these authors "take it for granted that Simond's infection model, black rat → rat flea → human, which was developed to explain the spread of plague in India, is the only way an epidemic of Yersinia pestis infection could spread", whilst pointing to several other possibilities. [55] Similarly, Monica Green has argued that greater attention is needed to the range of (especially non-commensal) animals that might be involved in the transmission of plague. [32]

Archaeologist Barney Sloane has argued that there is insufficient evidence of the extinction of numerous rats in the archaeological record of the medieval waterfront in London and that the disease spread too quickly to support the thesis that Y. pestis was spread from fleas on rats he argues that transmission must have been person to person. [56] [57] This theory is supported by research in 2018 which suggested transmission was more likely by body lice and fleas during the second plague pandemic. [58]


Although academic debate continues, no single alternative solution has achieved widespread acceptance. [24] Many scholars arguing for Y. pestis as the major agent of the pandemic suggest that its extent and symptoms can be explained by a combination of bubonic plague with other diseases, including typhus, smallpox and respiratory infections. In addition to the bubonic infection, others point to additional septicaemic (a type of "blood poisoning") and pneumonic (an airborne plague that attacks the lungs before the rest of the body) forms of plague, which lengthen the duration of outbreaks throughout the seasons and help account for its high mortality rate and additional recorded symptoms. [59] In 2014, Public Health England announced the results of an examination of 25 bodies exhumed in the Clerkenwell area of London, as well as of wills registered in London during the period, which supported the pneumonic hypothesis. [50] Currently, while osteoarcheologists have conclusively verified the presence of Y. pestis bacteria in burial sites across northern Europe through examination of bones and dental pulp, no other epidemic pathogen has been discovered to bolster the alternative explanations. In the words of one researcher: "Finally, plague is plague." [60]


The importance of hygiene was recognised only in the nineteenth century with the development of the germ theory of disease until then streets were commonly filthy, with live animals of all sorts around and human parasites abounding, facilitating the spread of transmissible disease. [61]

Territorial origins

According to a team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman that analysed the genetic variation of the bacterium, Yersinia pestis "evolved in or near China", [62] [63] from which it spread around the world in multiple epidemics. Later research by a team led by Galina Eroshenko places the origins more specifically in the Tian Shan mountains on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China. [64]

Nestorian graves dating to 1338–1339 near Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan have inscriptions referring to plague, which has led some historians and epidemiologists to think they mark the outbreak of the epidemic. Others favour an origin in China. [65] According to this theory, the disease may have travelled along the Silk Road with Mongol armies and traders, or it could have arrived via ship. [66] Epidemics killed an estimated 25 million across Asia during the fifteen years before the Black Death reached Constantinople in 1347. [67] [68]

Research on the Delhi Sultanate and the Yuan Dynasty shows no evidence of any serious epidemic in fourteenth-century India and no specific evidence of plague in fourteenth-century China, suggesting that the Black Death may not have reached these regions. [69] [66] [70] Ole Benedictow argues that since the first clear reports of the Black Death come from Kaffa, the Black Death most likely originated in the nearby plague focus on the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. [71]

European outbreak

. But at length it came to Gloucester, yea even to Oxford and to London, and finally it spread over all England and so wasted the people that scarce the tenth person of any sort was left alive.

Plague was reportedly first introduced to Europe via Genoese traders from their port city of Kaffa in the Crimea in 1347. During a protracted siege of the city, in 1345–1346 the Mongol Golden Horde army of Jani Beg, whose mainly Tatar troops were suffering from the disease, catapulted infected corpses over the city walls of Kaffa to infect the inhabitants, [73] though it is more likely that infected rats travelled across the siege lines to spread the epidemic to the inhabitants. [74] [75] As the disease took hold, Genoese traders fled across the Black Sea to Constantinople, where the disease first arrived in Europe in summer 1347. [76]

The epidemic there killed the 13-year-old son of the Byzantine emperor, John VI Kantakouzenos, who wrote a description of the disease modelled on Thucydides's account of the 5th century BCE Plague of Athens, but noting the spread of the Black Death by ship between maritime cities. [76] Nicephorus Gregoras also described in writing to Demetrios Kydones the rising death toll, the futility of medicine, and the panic of the citizens. [76] The first outbreak in Constantinople lasted a year, but the disease recurred ten times before 1400. [76]

Carried by twelve Genoese galleys, plague arrived by ship in Sicily in October 1347 [77] the disease spread rapidly all over the island. Galleys from Kaffa reached Genoa and Venice in January 1348, but it was the outbreak in Pisa a few weeks later that was the entry point to northern Italy. Towards the end of January, one of the galleys expelled from Italy arrived in Marseilles. [78]

From Italy, the disease spread northwest across Europe, striking France, Spain (the epidemic began to wreak havoc first on the Crown of Aragon in the spring of 1348), [79] Portugal and England by June 1348, then spread east and north through Germany, Scotland and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350. It was introduced into Norway in 1349 when a ship landed at Askøy, then spread to Bjørgvin (modern Bergen) and Iceland. [80] Finally, it spread to northwestern Russia in 1351. Plague was somewhat more uncommon in parts of Europe with less developed trade with their neighbours, including the majority of the Basque Country, isolated parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, and isolated Alpine villages throughout the continent. [81] [82] [83]

According to some epidemiologists, periods of unfavourable weather decimated plague-infected rodent populations and forced their fleas onto alternative hosts, [84] inducing plague outbreaks which often peaked in the hot summers of the Mediterranean, [85] as well as during the cool autumn months of the southern Baltic states. [86] [e] Among many other culprits of plague contagiousness, malnutrition, even if distantly, also contributed to such an immense loss in European population, since it weakened immune systems. [89]

Western Asian and North African outbreak

The disease struck various regions in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both economic and social structures. [90] As infected rodents infected new rodents, the disease spread across the region, entering also from southern Russia.

By autumn 1347, plague had reached Alexandria in Egypt, transmitted by sea from Constantinople according to a contemporary witness, from a single merchant ship carrying slaves. [91] By late summer 1348 it reached Cairo, capital of the Mamluk Sultanate, cultural centre of the Islamic world, and the largest city in the Mediterranean Basin the Bahriyya child sultan an-Nasir Hasan fled and more than a third of the 600,000 residents died. [92] The Nile was choked with corpses despite Cairo having a medieval hospital, the late 13th century bimaristan of the Qalawun complex. [92] The historian al-Maqrizi described the abundant work for grave-diggers and practitioners of funeral rites, and plague recurred in Cairo more than fifty times over the following century and half. [92]

During 1347, the disease travelled eastward to Gaza by April by July it had reached Damascus, and in October plague had broken out in Aleppo. [91] That year, in the territory of modern Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, the cities of Ashkelon, Acre, Jerusalem, Sidon, and Homs were all infected. In 1348–1349, the disease reached Antioch. The city's residents fled to the north, but most of them ended up dying during the journey. [93] Within two years, the plague had spread throughout the Islamic world, from Arabia across North Africa. [36] [ page needed ] The pandemic spread westwards from Alexandria along the African coast, while in April 1348 Tunis was infected by ship from Sicily. Tunis was then under attack by an army from Morocco this army dispersed in 1348 and brought the contagion with them to Morocco, whose epidemic may also have been seeded from the Islamic city of Almería in al-Andalus. [91]

Mecca became infected in 1348 by pilgrims performing the Hajj. [91] In 1351 or 1352, the Rasulid sultan of the Yemen, al-Mujahid Ali, was released from Mamluk captivity in Egypt and carried plague with him on his return home. [91] [94] During 1348, records show the city of Mosul suffered a massive epidemic, and the city of Baghdad experienced a second round of the disease. [ citation needed ]

Signs and symptoms

Bubonic plague

Symptoms of the disease include fever of 38–41 °C (100–106 °F), headaches, painful aching joints, nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise. Left untreated, of those that contract the bubonic plague, 80 percent die within eight days. [95]

Contemporary accounts of the pandemic are varied and often imprecise. The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes (or gavocciolos) in the groin, neck, and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened. [59] Boccaccio's description:

In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg . From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves. [96] [97] [f]

This was followed by acute fever and vomiting of blood. Most victims died two to seven days after initial infection. Freckle-like spots and rashes, [99] which could have been caused by flea-bites, were identified as another potential sign of plague.

Pneumonic plague

Lodewijk Heyligen, whose master the Cardinal Colonna died of plague in 1348, noted a distinct form of the disease, pneumonic plague, that infected the lungs and led to respiratory problems. [59] Symptoms include fever, cough, and blood-tinged sputum. As the disease progresses, sputum becomes free-flowing and bright red. Pneumonic plague has a mortality rate of 90 to 95 percent. [100]

Septicaemic plague

Septicaemic plague is the least common of the three forms, with a mortality rate near 100%. Symptoms are high fevers and purple skin patches (purpura due to disseminated intravascular coagulation). [100] In cases of pneumonic and particularly septicaemic plague, the progress of the disease is so rapid that there would often be no time for the development of the enlarged lymph nodes that were noted as buboes. [100]



There are no exact figures for the death toll the rate varied widely by locality. In urban centres, the greater the population before the outbreak, the longer the duration of the period of abnormal mortality. [101] It killed some 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia. [102] [103] [104] [ better source needed ] The mortality rate of the Black Death in the 14th century was far greater than the worst 20th-century outbreaks of Y. pestis plague, which occurred in India and killed as much as 3% of the population of certain cities. [105] The overwhelming number of deceased bodies produced by the Black Death caused the necessity of mass burial sites in Europe, sometimes including up to several hundred or several thousand skeletons. [106] The mass burial sites that have been excavated have allowed archaeologists to continue interpreting and defining the biological, sociological, historical, and anthropological implications of the Black Death. [106]

According to medieval historian Philip Daileader, it is likely that over four years, 45–50% of the European population died of plague. [107] [g] Norwegian historian Ole Benedictow suggests it could have been as much as 60% of the European population. [108] [h] In 1348, the disease spread so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not uncommon for as much as 50% of the population to die. [24] Half of Paris' population of 100,000 people died. In Italy, the population of Florence was reduced from between 110,000 and 120,000 inhabitants in 1338 down to 50,000 in 1351. At least 60% of the population of Hamburg and Bremen perished, [109] and a similar percentage of Londoners may have died from the disease as well, [50] with a death toll of approximately 62,000 between 1346 and 1353. [39] [i] Florence's tax records suggest that 80% of the city's population died within four months in 1348. [105] Before 1350, there were about 170,000 settlements in Germany, and this was reduced by nearly 40,000 by 1450. [111] The disease bypassed some areas, with the most isolated areas being less vulnerable to contagion. Plague did not appear in Douai in Flanders until the turn of the 15th century, and the impact was less severe on the populations of Hainaut, Finland, northern Germany, and areas of Poland. [105] Monks, nuns, and priests were especially hard-hit since they cared for victims of the Black Death. [112]

The physician to the Avignon Papacy, Raimundo Chalmel de Vinario (Latin: Magister Raimundus, lit. 'Master Raymond'), observed the decreasing mortality rate of successive outbreaks of plague in 1347–48, 1362, 1371, and 1382 in his 1382 treatise On Epidemics (De epidemica). [113] In the first outbreak, two thirds of the population contracted the illness and most patients died in the next, half the population became ill but only some died by the third, a tenth were affected and many survived while by the fourth occurrence, only one in twenty people were sickened and most of them survived. [113] By the 1380s in Europe, it predominantly affected children. [105] Chalmel de Vinario recognized that bloodletting was ineffective (though he continued to prescribe bleeding for members of the Roman Curia, whom he disliked), and claimed that all true cases of plague were caused by astrological factors and were incurable he himself was never able to effect a cure. [113]

The most widely accepted estimate for the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, and Syria, during this time, is for a death toll of about a third of the population. [114] The Black Death killed about 40% of Egypt's population. [115] In Cairo, with a population numbering as many as 600,000, and possibly the largest city west of China, between one third and 40% of the inhabitants died inside of eight months. [92]

Italian chronicler Agnolo di Tura recorded his experience from Siena, where plague arrived in May 1348:

Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices . great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds both day and night . And as soon as those ditches were filled more were dug . And I, Agnolo di Tura . buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. [116]


With such a large population decline from the pandemic, wages soared in response to a labour shortage. [117] On the other hand, in the quarter century after the Black Death in England, it is clear many labourers, artisans, and craftsmen, those living from money-wages alone, did suffer a reduction in real incomes owing to rampant inflation. [118] Landowners were also pushed to substitute monetary rents for labour services in an effort to keep tenants. [119]


Some historians believe the innumerable deaths brought on by the pandemic cooled the climate by freeing up land and triggering reforestation. This may have led to the Little Ice Age. [120]


Renewed religious fervour and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted "various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims", lepers, [121] [122] and Romani, blaming them for the crisis. Lepers, and others with skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis, were killed throughout Europe.

Because 14th-century healers and governments were at a loss to explain or stop the disease, Europeans turned to astrological forces, earthquakes, and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for outbreaks. [14] Many believed the epidemic was a punishment by God for their sins, and could be relieved by winning God's forgiveness. [123]

There were many attacks against Jewish communities. [124] In the Strasbourg massacre of February 1349, about 2,000 Jews were murdered. [124] In August 1349, the Jewish communities in Mainz and Cologne were annihilated. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been destroyed. [125] During this period many Jews relocated to Poland, where they received a warm welcome from King Casimir the Great. [126]


One theory that has been advanced is that the devastation in Florence caused by the Black Death, which hit Europe between 1348 and 1350, resulted in a shift in the world view of people in 14th-century Italy and led to the Renaissance. Italy was particularly badly hit by the pandemic, and it has been speculated that the resulting familiarity with death caused thinkers to dwell more on their lives on Earth, rather than on spirituality and the afterlife. [127] [j] It has also been argued that the Black Death prompted a new wave of piety, manifested in the sponsorship of religious works of art. [129]

This does not fully explain why the Renaissance occurred in Italy in the 14th century. The Black Death was a pandemic that affected all of Europe in the ways described, not only Italy. The Renaissance's emergence in Italy was most likely the result of the complex interaction of the above factors, [130] in combination with an influx of Greek scholars following the fall of the Byzantine Empire. [ citation needed ] As a result of the drastic reduction in the populace the value of the working class increased, and commoners came to enjoy more freedom. To answer the increased need for labour, workers travelled in search of the most favorable position economically. [131] [ better source needed ]

Prior to the emergence of the Black Death, the workings of Europe were run by the Catholic Church and the continent was considered a feudalistic society, composed of fiefs and city-states. [132] The pandemic completely restructured both religion and political forces survivors began to turn to other forms of spirituality and the power dynamics of the fiefs and city-states crumbled. [132] [133]

Cairo's population, partly owing to the numerous plague epidemics, was in the early 18th century half of what it was in 1347. [92] The populations of some Italian cities, notably Florence, did not regain their pre-14th century size until the 19th century. [134] The demographic decline due to the pandemic had economic consequences: the prices of food dropped and land values declined by 30–40% in most parts of Europe between 1350 and 1400. [135] Landholders faced a great loss, but for ordinary men and women it was a windfall. The survivors of the pandemic found not only that the prices of food were lower but also that lands were more abundant, and many of them inherited property from their dead relatives, and this probably destabilized feudalism. [136] [137]

The word "quarantine" has its roots in this period, though the concept of isolating people to prevent the spread of disease is older. In the city-state of Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Croatia), a thirty-day isolation period was implemented in 1377 for new arrivals to the city from plague-affected areas. The isolation period was later extended to forty days, and given the name "quarantino" from the Italian word for "forty". [138]

Second plague pandemic

The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. [139] According to Jean-Noël Biraben, the plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671. [140] (Note that some researchers have cautions about the uncritical use of Biraben's data. [141] ) The second pandemic was particularly widespread in the following years: 1360–63 1374 1400 1438–39 1456–57 1464–66 1481–85 1500–03 1518–31 1544–48 1563–66 1573–88 1596–99 1602–11 1623–40 1644–54 and 1664–67. Subsequent outbreaks, though severe, marked the retreat from most of Europe (18th century) and northern Africa (19th century). [142] The historian George Sussman argued that the plague had not occurred in East Africa until the 1900s. [69] However, other sources suggest that the Second pandemic did indeed reach Sub-Saharan Africa. [90]

According to historian Geoffrey Parker, "France alone lost almost a million people to the plague in the epidemic of 1628–31." [143] In the first half of the 17th century, a plague claimed some 1.7 million victims in Italy. [144] More than 1.25 million deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague in 17th-century Spain. [145]

The Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. [146] Plague was present in at least one location in the Islamic world virtually every year between 1500 and 1850. [147] Plague repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 inhabitants to it in 1620–21, and again in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42. [148] Cairo suffered more than fifty plague epidemics within 150 years from the plague's first appearance, with the final outbreak of the second pandemic there in the 1840s. [92] Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, thirty-seven larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, and an additional thirty-one between 1751 and 1800. [149] Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague, and sometimes two-thirds of its population has been wiped out. [150]

Third plague pandemic

The third plague pandemic (1855–1859) started in China in the mid-19th century, spreading to all inhabited continents and killing 10 million people in India alone. [151] The investigation of the pathogen that caused the 19th-century plague was begun by teams of scientists who visited Hong Kong in 1894, among whom was the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin, after whom the pathogen was named. [24]

Twelve plague outbreaks in Australia between 1900 and 1925 resulted in well over 1,000 deaths, chiefly in Sydney. This led to the establishment of a Public Health Department there which undertook some leading-edge research on plague transmission from rat fleas to humans via the bacillus Yersinia pestis. [152]

The first North American plague epidemic was the San Francisco plague of 1900–1904, followed by another outbreak in 1907–1908. [153] [154] [155]


Modern treatment methods include insecticides, the use of antibiotics, and a plague vaccine. It is feared that the plague bacterium could develop drug resistance and again become a major health threat. One case of a drug-resistant form of the bacterium was found in Madagascar in 1995. [156] A further outbreak in Madagascar was reported in November 2014. [157] In October 2017 the deadliest outbreak of the plague in modern times hit Madagascar, killing 170 people and infecting thousands. [158]

An estimate of the case fatality rate for the modern bubonic plague, following the introduction of antibiotics, is 11%, although it may be higher in underdeveloped regions. [159]

  • A Journal of the Plague Year – 1722 book by Daniel Defoe describing the Great Plague of London of 1665–1666 – a 2010 action horror film set in medieval England in 1348 ("The Betrothed") – a plague novel by Alessandro Manzoni, set in Milan, and published in 1827 turned into an opera by Amilcare Ponchielli in 1856, and adapted for film in 1908, 1941, 1990, and 2004
  • Cronaca fiorentina ("Chronicle of Florence") – a literary history of the plague, and of Florence up to 1386, by Baldassarre Bonaiuti
  • Danse Macabre ("Dance of Death") – an artistic genre of allegory of the Late Middle Ages on the universality of death
  • The Decameron – by Giovanni Boccaccio, finished in 1353. Tales told by a group of people sheltering from the Black Death in Florence. Numerous adaptations to other media have been made – a 1992 science fiction novel by Connie Willis
  • A Feast in Time of Plague – a verse play by Aleksandr Pushkin (1830), made into an opera by César Cui in 1900 – a popular French legend supposed to provide immunity to the plague – Medieval "flagellant songs"
  • "A Litany in Time of Plague" – a sonnet by Thomas Nashe which was part of his play Summer's Last Will and Testament (1592)
  • The Plague – a 1947 novel by Albert Camus, often read as an allegory about Fascism
  • The Seventh Seal – a 1957 film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
  • World Without End – a 2007 novel by Ken Follett, turned into a miniseries of the same name in 2012
  • The Years of Rice and Salt – an alternative history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson set in a world in which the plague killed virtually all Europeans


  1. ^ Other names include Great Mortality (Latin: magna mortalitas, lit.'Great Death', common in the 14th century), atra mors, 'black death', the Great Plague, the Great Bubonic Plague or the Black Plague.
  2. ^ Declining temperatures following the end of the Medieval Warm Period added to the crisis
  3. ^ He was able to adopt the epidemiology of the bubonic plague for the Black Death for the second edition in 1908, implicating rats and fleas in the process, and his interpretation was widely accepted for other ancient and medieval epidemics, such as the Plague of Justinian that was prevalent in the Eastern Roman Empire from 541 to 700 CE. [24]
  4. ^ In 1998, Drancourt et al. reported the detection of Y. pestis DNA in human dental pulp from a medieval grave. [44] Another team led by Tom Gilbert cast doubt on this identification [45] and the techniques employed, stating that this method "does not allow us to confirm the identification of Y. pestis as the aetiological agent of the Black Death and subsequent plagues. In addition, the utility of the published tooth-based ancient DNA technique used to diagnose fatal bacteraemias in historical epidemics still awaits independent corroboration".
  5. ^ However, other researchers do not think that plague ever became endemic in Europe or its rat population. The disease repeatedly wiped out the rodent carriers, so that the fleas died out until a new outbreak from Central Asia repeated the process. The outbreaks have been shown to occur roughly 15 years after a warmer and wetter period in areas where plague is endemic in other species, such as gerbils. [87][88]
  6. ^ The only medical detail that is questionable in Boccaccio's description is that the gavocciolo was an "infallible token of approaching death", as, if the bubo discharges, recovery is possible. [98]
  7. ^ According to medieval historian Philip Daileader,

The trend of recent research is pointing to a figure more like 45–50% of the European population dying during a four-year period. There is a fair amount of geographic variation. In Mediterranean Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to 75–80% of the population. In Germany and England . it was probably closer to 20%. [107]

Detailed study of the mortality data available points to two conspicuous features in relation to the mortality caused by the Black Death: namely the extreme level of mortality caused by the Black Death, and the remarkable similarity or consistency of the level of mortality, from Spain in southern Europe to England in north-western Europe. The data is sufficiently widespread and numerous to make it likely that the Black Death swept away around 60% of Europe's population. The generally assumed population of Europe at the time is about 80 million, implying that around 50 million people died in the Black Death. [108]

Why did the Bubonic Plague miss Poland?

During the years 1348-1350 Europe experienced the Bubonic Plague, which killed 30%-60% of its population. It reached even the most isolated places such as Scnadinavia and northern Russia. One reagion however was almost entirely spared - the Kingdom of Poland. What was the reason for that? This region was not less urbanized or populated than most of Europe, and especially not Scandiavia or Russia. It was also linked to the rest of Europe via roads and trade, which flourished along the so-called "amber road". Krakow was a major trade center on that road and even had the largest medieval market square on the continent. The climate of the region was not different than most of Europe and the geography was nothing special too. So i personally can find no logical explanation to maps such as that below:


It could just be that records from Poland during Plague is lost or it was not well-documented there.

Other reasons could be lower population count, distance between settlements which made infection rate slower etc..

Today, as the United States and the rest of the world continues to be ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, we look back to a previous pandemic of enormously greater proportions, the infamous Black Death of Bubonic Plague that ravaged much of the world in the 14 th Century. Panicked populations, desperate for answers and solutions to the deadly plague, took to blaming Europe’s Jewish population as the cause of the calamity, a scapegoating of Jews common throughout history. The pervasive theme of blaming various catastrophes on Jews made the scapegoating of the Black Death an almost foregone conclusion! (Note: Muslim and African American anti-Semitism is not discussed in this essay.)

Digging Deeper

An example of the blaming of the Jews for the woes of the population during the plague pandemic is the February 14, 1349, massacre of Jews in Strasbourg, France, an incident we referred to as “The Other St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” in a previous article. Located near the French-German border in the region known as Alsace, Strasbourg was not a stranger to anti-Semitism. Lest you think anti-Semitism was something invented by the Nazi’s in World War II, pogroms against people practicing the Jewish faith go back a long time, even before the earliest settlement of Strasbourg in 12 B.C. In 1349, only a year after an epidemic of Bubonic Plague (Black Death) had devastated Strasbourg, a tide of hatred swept over the city, and public hysteria blamed Jews for “poisoning the wells.” In “retaliation,” about 1,000 Jews were burned to death! The systemic and pervasive anti-Semitism that made such a massacre possible as if the mass murder was not enough, is evidenced by local laws that were then enacted that forbade Jews from being within the city after dark, and the 10 o’clock p.m. curfew was sounded by a special horn to ensure compliance with this law. Incredibly, this policy lasted all the way until the French Revolution. And if that was not enough, a special tax was levied on Jews for any horse they brought into the city, supposedly for pavement maintenance. During World War II, the anti-Semitic monster again reared its ugly head in Strasbourg as the Jewish population of the city was evacuated to the West to avoid persecution by the invading Germans.

Another instance of European Christians blaming the Jews for the calamity of the Black Death occurred in Mainz, Germany, also in 1349, an event we also have previously discussed. On August 24, 1349, 6,000 Jews were massacred in Mainz, Germany by being burned alive. Blamed for so many ills, this time they were held responsible for spreading the Bubonic plague.

The history of the Jewish people prior to the Black Death was also replete with incidents of massacres and oppressive actions against Jews, largely by Christians and Muslims. The Jews found themselves to be in the minority wherever they lived, making them the “outsiders” and “different,” practicing a “strange” religion and traditions, as well as babbling in a “strange” language, that is Hebrew and or Yiddish. Humans are notoriously leery of anyone that is “different,” and the Jews fit that description, at least in the minds of the Gentiles. A notable example of such discrimination and persecution at a high level of authority was the Inquisition conducted by the Catholic Church, which began in the 12 th Century in France. While the “Holy Inquisition” investigated all sorts of alleged heresy and blasphemy, or other religious crimes, the crime of being a Jew was certainly on their agenda. Jews were singled out for persecution, and not rarely for extermination or expulsion, usually with their property and belongings seized by the Church or local Christian persecutors who stood to gain by the pogroms. Spreading through other European countries and lasting for centuries, the various Inquisitions offer proof of systemic and “legally” sanctioned anti-Semitic activity, giving us insight into the mind of European Christians. A quotation from an article on the subject of Europeans blaming Jews is most alarming, “Tens of millions of European Christians once believed — and tens of millions of Muslims believe today — that Jews kidnap and slaughter non-Jewish children before Passover to use their blood for baking matzo.” As a quick note, the blood libel dates back to the Hellenistic Period, predating Christianity by two centuries. Another incident of an anti-Jewish European event prior to the Black Death is the Church imposed order of the enslavement of all Jews at Toledo, Spain, in 694. The inexorable will of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages to gain converts and establish control over all European populations made Jews a natural “enemy” to the Church. Religious intolerance, being a pervasive and almost universal human trait, makes the scapegoating of Jews for the Plague and other ills as inevitable as it is wrong.

Jews have often been referred to as “moneylenders” by Christians, a pejorative term that highlights the difference between Jews, who are allowed by their religion to loan money and charge interest, and Christians that often were forbidden from engaging in the business of lending money for profit. Calling Jews “usurers” was also somewhat misleading, as the technical definition of usury means any profit derived from interest, while the commonly accepted connotation is one of excessive interest (today often called “loansharking”). Resentment against those to whom money is owed is another common human trait, regardless of who the person or persons are that are due the payments. By labeling an entire group of people with such a negatively charged accusation it became easier for European Christians to reinforce each others’ core biases. Other examples of possible violent action against someone to whom powerful people were in debt was the situation with the Knights Templar. Destroying that order and seizing their assets alleviated the enormous debts owed the order by rich and powerful Europeans, including royalty. Bizarrely, perhaps, there were indeed Christian moneylenders in Europe during the Middle Ages, and usually those Christians lending money charged a higher rate of interest than did Jews! The “differentness” of the Jews, with the aforementioned religion, customs and language, probably made it easier to focus bitterness at having to pay back loans against a readily identifiable group. The disparaging of Europe’s Jews as “moneylenders” was just plain wrong, but being wrong has never stopped people from maintaining strong opinions and prejudices!

Jealousy, envy, resentment, all worked together to create an anti-Semitic atmosphere. The much studied and demonstrable fact that Jews generally have a higher regard for education may have also contributed to at least some Jews’ apparent wealth, another source of resentment from those less well off. Jews today reflect this bias toward education as evidenced by the statistic that shows Jews have an average of 13.4 years of education compared to the runner up group, Christians, at 9.3 years of education among religious groups. A cultural drive to steer children into occupations that are likely to result in better living conditions and remuneration results in envy, when it should result in emulation. As humans seldom willingly take the blame for their own relative failures, scapegoats are searched for and virtually always “found,” whether those to blame are labeled “witches” or Jews.

Another major historical series of events that offer the implication of the inevitability of the blaming of the Jews for the Black Death can be found in the persecution of Jews in Europe during the period of the Crusades. During the various Crusades, starting with the First Crusade, (1096-1099), the Crusaders took out their religious fervor on Jewish populations in cities the Crusading throngs passed through on their way to the Holy Land. Not only did the Holy Warriors of the First Crusade terrorize, murder and rob Jewish settlements along the route to the Middle East, notably along the Rhine and Danube Rivers, once in the Holy Land Jews were treated as enemies to be eradicated. Although any substantial Jewish state had been gone from the Holy Land for centuries by the time of the First Crusade, many Jewish settlements and cities remained in the area. The Crusaders promptly besieged and attacked any Jewish city they came upon, and when Jerusalem was finally taken by the Crusaders in 1099, the Jews that had defended the city alongside Muslim occupants were rounded up, herded into a synagogue, and burned alive! While the report of the burning of the Jews may or may not be accurate, at a minimum the Jews of Jerusalem were forced into involuntary labor, slavery, or beheaded. Some lucky Jews were ransomed for their freedom, while others were merely executed. Other Jews saved their own lives by agreeing to conversion to Christianity. No doubt the robbing and murder was “justified” in the minds of the Crusaders by ascribing all sorts of alleged wrongs committed by the Jews, from “killing” Jesus Christ to financial misdeeds such as usury, to merely being unwilling to convert to Christianity. Such rationalization has been used by people throughout history on both a personal and a group level to allow people to engage in otherwise proscribed behavior such as killing and looting. One particular account of the persecution of Jews during the First Crusade, specifically in Mainz (in modern Germany), is an anonymous retelling written in Hebrew called Mainz Anonymous. Both Jewish and Christian authors have written extensively on the subject of the persecution of Jews during the Crusades. Subsequent Crusades did not always even reach the Holy Land, but still resulted in the massacre and robbing of Jews by Crusaders in their march toward Jerusalem. Europe seemed to be ever on the brink of “open season” on their Jewry.

The persistent and pervasive anti-Semitism displayed by European Christians has continued through the centuries since the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Black Death. The prejudice against and fear of Jews is deeply ingrained in Europeans, as is the European predilection for blaming Jews for every ill that befalls Europe. While anti-Jewish pogroms have taken place throughout European history, the most well documented and perhaps most massive anti-Jewish movement took place in Germany during World War II (1939-1945) when restrictive and oppressive anti-Semitic laws went a giant step further to attempted genocide of the Jewish population of Europe. Many German conquered or aligned countries found many willing participants among the local population to join the massive effort of rounding up and/or killing local Jews.

Sometimes this “blame the Jews” phenomenon reaches across the Atlantic to North America, and in 2020, the mayor of New York City and the Governor of New York have been accused of blaming Jews for the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York! Other American conspiracy theories about the culpability of Jews for all sorts of perceived problems have resulted in attacks and protests against Jewish Americans even today, often accompanied by chants of “They will not replace us,” implying some sort of Jewish plan to take over and replace Gentiles. Jews are blamed for the mythical Illuminati campaign to run the world, and in the process keep “honest” hard working Christian people oppressed and virtual slaves to the aim of enriching the Jews. Various wealthy and powerful Jews are painted as conspirators to undermine Christianity and Christians. Jews get blamed for every war, every financial crisis, and many of society’s ills in Europe and America. Since the early 20 th Century, Jews have largely been blamed for the communist movement, a rallying cry that unites the majority of European and European Americans against the perceived monolithic Jewry. The animosity and anti-Semitism has been ingrained in non-Jewish Europeans and Americans for centuries. It seems almost “natural” that Europeans would blame Jews for the Black Death!

With a history of blaming Jews for various problems prior to the catastrophe of the Black Death, and the evidence of pervasive anti-Semitism and Jew blaming in the centuries since, it should come not only as no surprise that Jews were blamed by European Christians for somehow causing the Black Death, but also for nearly every problem in Europe since.

We at History and Headlines find anti-Semitism and other forms of religious hatred and discrimination to be wrong. We welcome people to our site and channel regardless of your religious beliefs. Whether you are an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, etc., you are welcome to read our articles, watch our videos, and engage with them by commenting. We hope that you will subscribe to learn more about our world’s diverse history and also that you will be kind to your fellow men and women even those who hold different opinions from yourself. The tragic story about religious persecution amidst a pandemic told in today’s video does not have to be the story to be told generations from now about us in 2021. We all can do our part to make a positive difference in our world. Question for students (and subscribers): What can be done today to eliminate anti-Semitism? Please let us know in the comments section below this article and please feel welcome to donate to The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to help commemorate the victims of one of the worst genocides in human history while educating future generations about this tragedy in the hopes of preventing such horrors from occurring again.

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Historical Evidence

If you would like to learn more about Jewish history, I recommend the YouTube channels of Sam Aronow (https://www.youtube.com/user/septentrionale) and UsefulCharts (https://www.youtube.com/user/usefulchartsdotcom). Thank you to both channels for providing feedback on this article.

For more information, please see…

The featured image in this article, a representation of a massacre of the Jews in 1349, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.

Why did certain regions of Europe escape the Black Death?

For example, Poland, Milan, Basque country, all seem to have suffered less from the plague than other parts of Europe. Did these places have populations with genetic immunities or were there better hygiene practices in place?

I want to point out that these areas, such as Poland, didn't "escape" the Black Death. It was less severe there (as far as historians can tell), but it was still there nonetheless. Anyway, to answer your question, areas with larger populations and larger towns were hit harder because the disease was able to spread faster and to more people. In places like Poland, the small villages were separated by long distances, and not as many people were traveling in or out of them. I'm sure there are more reasons but this is definitely a contributing factor. We also have to remember that there were better records in larger cities such as Rome and Paris, so historians have a harder time determining what percentage of the population was affected in outlying areas. In fact, Italy is known for having great notarial records during the Middle Ages compared to other regions of Europe.

As for Milan, I'm not sure where you read that it was unaffected. In a lot of larger towns in Italy, including Venice, city officials got together with local physicians to come up with ways to stop the spread of the disease. Quarantine, denying travelers and ships, etc.

The Black Death's utter destruction of 14th-century Europe, in one scary GIF

The Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, killing an estimated 60 percent of Europe's entire population. And it spread scarily quickly just over the course of six years — as this stunning GIF demonstrates:

The plague originated in China in 1334 and then spread west along trading routes through the Middle East. But Europe was particularly vulnerable to a devastating outbreak. According to University of Oslo historian Ole Benedictow, European society at the time had created the conditions for "the golden age of bacteria." Population density and trade/travel had grown dramatically, but European leaders still had almost no knowledge about how to contain outbreaks.

So when traders unwittingly brought the plague with them into southeastern and southern Europe from the Middle East, it spread quickly, killing huge numbers of people throughout Europe.

And it did, indeed, hit pretty much all of Europe. Though the map suggests the areas around Milan, Krakow, and the Spain-France border were unaffected, that's not actually true. It's just that compared with the staggering devastation suffered by the rest of Europe, those areas experienced hardly any deaths at all.

But that doesn't mean they objectively suffered a small number of deaths: According to Rutgers historian Robert Gottfried, the death rate in Milan was "only" 15 percent, and "only" around 25 percent in modern Poland. In other words, the rest of Europe was hit so badly that losing 15 percent of your population wasn't even enough to put a city on the map.

According to Benedictow, Iceland and Finland are "the only regions that, we know with certainty, avoided the Black Death because they had tiny populations with minimal contact abroad."

How the Black Death created the modern world

While it was certainly a horrific tragedy on a massive scale, the Black Death also spawned many of the foundations of our modern world.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the death of 60 percent of Europe's entire population had profound impacts on European society. In fact, according to Benedictow, it fundamentally changed the course of European history, producing a wave of social and cultural changes that pushed Europe toward modernity. This period of great transformation is known today as the Renaissance (a term typically associated with art but with a much wider meaning among historians).

Prior to the plague, the medieval social model depended on the nobility extracting value from huge numbers of low-paid serfs. After the plague, though, there were a lot fewer serfs to exploit. With labor scarce, the nobility had to start paying workers more, facilitating the emergence of modern wage labor. And once ordinary people had more money to spend, a market emerged for mass consumer goods — setting the stage for modern capitalism.

Moreover, having such a tiny laboring population created incentives for technological innovation. When you only have a small number of people to work in crucial sectors like agriculture, each person needs to be more productive. Suddenly there was a much more pressing need to come up with new labor-saving technologies, which sped up the progress and spread of technology.

"By creating a great deficit of labour, [the plague] speeded up economic, technological, social, and administrative modernization, which especially in the capitalist centers in northern Italy and partly in Flanders found expression in the more secular and urban culture associated with the Renaissance," Benedictow writes. It "hastened the breakdown of feudal economic structures and mentalities and the rise of a prevailing dynamic capitalist market economy."

Of course, it's possible all of this would have happened eventually without the plague. But it would be surprising if a plague as massive and as devastating as the Black Death didn't have wide-reaching social consequences.

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The Survivors of the Black Death: Blood Types, Bonfires and Keeping Clean

Also known as The Plague, it has recurred at frequent intervals for centuries and even today in America there are 5-15 known cases of plague per year, and in 2013 in madagascar 20 people have died from the disease, with 60 deaths the year before. The most infamous outbreaks took place in Europe between 1347 and 1353 AD and have been estimated to have killed between 75-200 million people: roughly one third of all people in Europe at the time.

The Plague had three forms: Bubonic, Pneumonic and Sceptecimic.
The Bubonic plague is perhaps the most well known, with it's primary symptom being the painful buboes that swell up in the lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague infected the lungs and scepticemic plague infected the blood.

The majority of Europe fought a losing battle due to ignorence about the disease and more primitive' medical practice: nowadays the plague is combatted by a mix of increasingly hygienic living conditions to combat the rat plague carriers and antibiotics to combat the disease itself. However, as you can see from the image above, there were a few notable 'islands' that managed to fight off the plague: Poland and Milan.

The Tumblr post that inspired this article gives the fascinating reason for these phenomena, and I will leave it to these ladies and/or gents to explain it in their own words:


If I remember correctly, Poland’s secret is that the Jews where being blamed all over Europe (as usual) as scapegoats for the black plague. Poland was the only place that accepted Jewish refugees, so pretty much all of them moved there.
Now, one of the major causes of getting the plague was poor hygiene. This proved very effective for the plague because everyone threw their poop into the streets because there were no sewers, and literally no one bathed because it was against their religion. Unless they were Jewish, who actually bathed relatively often. When all the Jews moved to Poland, they brought bathing with them, and so the plague had little effect there.
Milan survived by quarantining its city and burning down the house of anyone showing early symptoms, with the entire family inside it.

Poland: “Hey, feeling a bit down? Have a quick wash! There, you see? All better”
Milan:Aw, feeling a bit sick are we? BURN MOTHERFUCKER, BURN. ”

Also, this might have something to do with it: from what I understand, O blood type is uncommonly… common in Poland. Something to do with large families in small villages and a LOT of intermarriage. The black plague was caused by a bacterium that produced, in its waste in the human body, wastes that very closely mimic the “B” marker sugars on red blood cells that keep the body from attacking its own immune system. Anyone who has a B blood type had an immune system that was naturally desensitized to the presence of the bacterium, and therefore was more prone to developing the disease. Anyone who had an O type was doubly lucky because the O blood type means the total absence of ANY markers, A or B, meaning that their bodys’ immune system would react quickly and violently against the invaders, while someone with an A may show symptoms and recover more slowly, while someone with B would have just died. Because O is a recessive blood type, it shows in higher numbers when more people who carry the recessive genes marry other people who also carry the recessive gene. Poland, which has a nearly 700 year history of being conquered by or partnering with every other nation in the surrounding area, was primarily an agricultural country, focused around smaller, farming communities where people were legally tied to, and required to work, “their” land, and so historically never “spread” their genes across a large area. The economy was, and had been, unstable for a very long period of time leading up to the plague, the government had been ineffective and had very little reach in comparison to the armies of the other countries around for a very very long time, and so its people largely remained in small communities where multiple generations of cross-familial inbreeding could have allowed for this more recessive gene to show up more frequently. Thus, there could be a higher percentage of O blood types in any region of the country, guaranteeing less spread of the illness and moving slower when it did manage to travel. Combine this with the fact that there were very few large, urban centres where the disease would thrive, and with the above facts, and you’ve got a lovely recipe for avoiding the plague.
Interestingly enough, as a result from the plague, the entirety of Europe now has a higher percentage of people with O blood type than any other region of the world.

Just to throw a nod in, as a medieval historian, this is all credible, and is the leading theory as to the plagues effectiveness at this point. So. Enjoy your new knowledge.

So there you have it. If you're Jewish, or have a type O blood type, you can rest safe in the knowledge that you probably wouldn't have died of the plague!
. Probably.

The Black Death, however, is still perhaps not the most prevalent and deadly disease in all of human history.
In 1918 the 'Spanish Flu' killed 100 million people - 3% of the world's population. But this pales in comparison to Malaria. Researchers suggest that across all of human history, of all the humans that have ever existed, one half have died due to Malaria.

Pandemics and disease are humanity's greatest foe and how we cope with their impact will always be an important and fascinating part of our history.

Why Was It Called The Black Death?

Above: Detail from an engraving depicting plague victims in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1574.

Did You Know?

In the 1340s people did not refer to the plague as the Black Death, that name came a few hundred years later (see below). Here are some of the names used in contemporary literature from the Christian and Islamic worlds:

What Christians Called The Plague

Did You Know?

The Black Death has also been called ‘The Plague of Florence’. This is because the city was the first major population centre to be seriously impacted, and also because the story of the city’s demise was detailed in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

What Muslims Called The Plague

The Plague of the Kindred

The Year of the Annihilation

1555 – the first known instance of the name Black Death being recorded, more than 200 years later. The name possibly derives from the latin ‘atra mors’, which translates as ‘black death’ or ‘terrible death’.

God’s Tokens – the name given to the blotches that appear on some victims’ skin.

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