The spread of the black death.
Poland, tell us your secret.
Poland is the
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.
I reblogged this tons of times, but the Milan info is new.
Damn Italy, you scary.
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 centers 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.
WHY IS THIS ALL SO COOL
When Tumblr teaches you more about the plague than 12 years of school ever did.
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!
Sword Fighting Manual
- Dated: circa 1500
Pages from a book from the State Library of Berlin.
okay but some of these are really funny.
Proper swordsmanship: holding the blade and hitting someone in the face with the hilt.
Blood Stains from the slaine Monks of Lindisfarne in the Viking attack of 793AD. Folios 191v and 192r of the Lindisfarne Gospels - written and illuminated by the Anglo-Saxon Bishop Eadfrith in 698AD.
Liber generationis Jesu Christi
“Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold, the church of St. Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples.”
Alcuin, Letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria
Images: British Library
As someone who originally trained as a social historian of the Medieval Period, I have some things to add in support of the main point. Most people dramatically underestimate the economic importance of Medieval women and their level of agency. Part of the problem here is when modern people think of medieval people they are imagining the upper end of the nobility and not the rest of society.
Your average low end farming family could not survive without women’s labour. Yes, there was gender separation of labour. Yes, the men did the bulk of the grain farming, outside of peak times like planting and harvest, but unless you were very well off, you generally didn’t live on that. The women had primary responsibility for the chickens, ducks, or geese the family owned, and thus the eggs, feathers, and meat. (Egg money is nothing to sneeze at and was often the main source of protein unless you were very well off). They grew vegetables, and if she was lucky she might sell the excess. Her hands were always busy, and not just with the tasks you expect like cooking, mending, child care, etc.. As she walked, as she rested, as she went about her day, if her hands would have otherwise been free, she was spinning thread with a hand distaff. (You can see them tucked in the belts of peasant women in art of the era). Unless her husband was a weaver, most of that thread was for sale to the folks making clothe as men didn’t spin. Depending where she lived and the ages of her children, she might have primary responsibility for the families sheep and thus takes part in sheering and carding. (Sheep were important and there are plenty of court cases of women stealing loose wool or even shearing other people’s sheep.) She might gather firewood, nuts, fruit, or rushes, again depending on geography. She might own and harvest fruit trees and thus make things out of that fruit. She might keep bees and sell honey. She might make and sell cheese if they had cows, sheep, or goats. Just as her husband might have part time work as a carpenter or other skilled craft when the fields didn’t need him, she might do piece work for a craftsman or be a brewer of ale, cider, or perry (depending on geography). Ale doesn’t keep so women in a village took it in turn to brew batches, the water not being potable on it’s own, so everyone needed some form of alcohol they could water down to drink. The women’s labour and the money she bought in kept the family alive between the pay outs for the men as well as being utterly essential on a day to day survival level.
Something similar goes on in towns and cities. The husband might be a craftsman or merchant, but trust me, so is his wife and she has the right to carry on the trade after his death.
Also, unless there was a lot of money, goods, lands, and/or titles involved, people generally got a say in who they married. No really. Keep in mind that the average age of first marriage for a yeoman was late teens or early twenties (depending when and where), but the average age of first marriage for the working poor was more like 27-29. The average age of death for men in both those categories was 35. with women, if you survived your first few child births you might live to see grandchildren.
Do the math there. Odds are if your father was a small farmer, he’s been dead for some time before you gather enough goods to be marrying a man. For sure your mother (and grandmother and/or step father if you have them) likely has opinions, but you can have a valid marriage by having sex after saying yes to a proposal or exchanging vows in the present (I thee wed), unless you live in Italy, where you likely need a notary. You do not need clergy as church weddings don’t exist until the Reformation. For sure, it’s better if you publish banns three Sundays running in case someone remembers you are too closely related, but it’s not a legal requirement. Who exactly can stop you if you are both determined?
So the less money, goods, lands, and power your family has, the more likely you are to be choosing your partner. There is an exception in that unfree folk can be required to remarry, but they are give time and plenty of warning before a partner would be picked for them. It happened a lot less than you’d think. If you were born free and had enough money to hire help as needed whether for farm or shop or other business, there was no requirement of remarriage at all. You could pick a partner or choose to stay single. Do the math again on death rates. It’s pretty common to marry more than once. Maybe the first wife died in childbirth. The widower needs the work and income a wife brings in and that’s double if the baby survives. Maybe the second wife has wide hips, but he dies from a work related injury when she’s still young. She could sure use a man’s labour around the farm or shop. Let’s say he dies in a fight or drowns in a ditch. She’s been doing well. Her children are old enough to help with the farm or shop, she picks a pretty youth for his looks instead of his economic value. You get marriages for love and lust as well as economics just like you get now and May/December cuts both ways.
A lot of our ideas about how people lived in the past tends to get viewed through a Victorian or early Hollywood lens, but that tends to be particularly extreme as far was writing out women’s agency and contribution as well as white washing populations in our histories, films, and therefore our minds eyes.
Real life is more complicated than that.
BTW, there are plenty of women at the top end of the scale who showed plenty of agency and who wielded political and economic power. I’ve seen people argue that the were exceptions, but I think they were part of a whole society that had a tradition of strong women living on just as they always had sermons and homilies admonishing them to be otherwise to the contrary. There’s also a whole other thing going on with the Pope trying to centralized power from the thirteenth century on being vigorously resisted by powerful abbesses and other holy women. Yes, they eventually mostly lost, but it took so many centuries because there were such strong traditions of those women having political power.
Boss post! To add to that, many historians have theorised that modern gender roles evolved alongside industrialisation, when there was suddenly a conceptual division between work/public spaces, and home/private spaces. The factory became the place of work, where previously work happened at home. Gender became entangled in this division, with women becoming associated with the home, and men with public spaces. It might be assumable, therefore, that women had (have?) greater freedoms in agrarian societies; or, at least, had (have?) different demands placed on them with regard to their gender.
(Please note that the above historical reading is profoundly Eurocentric, and not universally applicable. At the same time, when I say that the factory became the place of work, I mean it in conceptual sense, not a literal sense. Not everyone worked in the factory, but there is a lot of literature about how the institution of the factory, as a symbol of industrialisation, reshaped the way people thought about labour.)
I am broadly of that opinion. You can see upper class women being encouraged to be less useful as the piecework system grows and spreads. You can see that spread to the middle class around when the early factory system gears up. By mid-19th century that domestic sphere vs, public sphere is full swing for everyone who can afford it and those who can’t are explicitly looked down on and treated as lesser. You can see the class system slowly calcify from the 17th century on.
Grain of salt that I get less accurate between 1605-French Revolution or thereabouts. I’ve periodically studied early modern stuff, but it’s more piecemeal.
I too was confining my remarks to Medieval Europe because 1. That was my specialty. 2. A lot of English language fantasy literature is based on Medieval Europe, often badly and more based on misapprehension than what real lives were like.
I am very grateful that progress is occurring and more traditions are influencing people’s writing. I hate that so much of the fantasy writing of my childhood was so narrow.
Wanna reblog this because for a long time I’ve had this vague knowledge in my head that society in the past wasn’t how people are always assuming it was (SERIOUSLY VICTORIANS, THANKS FOR DICKING WITH HOW WE VIEW EVERYTHING HISTORICAL). I get fed up with people who complain about fantasy stuff, claiming “historical accuracy” to whine about ethnic diversity and gender equality and other cool stuff that lets everyone join in the fun, and then I get sad because the first defence is always “it’s fantasy, so that doesn’t matter.”
I mean, that’s a good and valid defence, but here you have it; proof fucking positive that historical accuracy shows that equality and diversity are not new ideas and if anything BELONG in historical fiction. As far as I can tell, most people in the past were too bloody busy to get all ruffled up about that stuff; they had prejudices, but from what little I know the lines historically drawn in the sand were in slightly different places and for different reasons. (You can’t trust them furrigners. It’s all pixies and devil-worship over there).
So next time someone tells you that something isn’t “historically accurate” because it’s not racist/sexist/any other form of bigotry for that matter-ist enough for their liking, tell them to shut the hell up because they clearly know far less about history than they do about being an asshole.
THIS POST LIFTS ME UP
IT GIVES ME LIFE
MORE LIFE THAN I’VE EVER HAD
IT’S ALL I’VE GOT
IT’S ALL I’VE GOT IN THIS WORLD
AND IT’S ALL THE POST I NEED
Famous Mothers from History (and their famous children)
Catherine de’ Medici (13 April 1519 - 5 January 1589) - She was a member of the powerful Italian Medici family and the famous wife of King Henry II of France. Her husband died in 1560, leaving his wife regent during a time of intense religious strife. Catherine was also the mother of three of France’s kings - Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, all of whom were rather sickly and weak (both Francis and Charles died before their mother). She held enormous sway over her sons, though Henry less so, and great authority in the government; after she embarked on a diplomatic journey across France (as a sixty-year-old woman), the Venetian ambassador claimed she was “born to tame and govern a people as unruly as the French”.
Empress Dowager Cixi (29 November 1835 - 15 November 1908) - Although her son, the Tongzhi Emperor, was the technical ruler of China, the charismatic but stubborn Cixi effectively controlled the government. When her son died, Cixi put her nephew, the Guanxu Emperor, in power; however, when he began to implement reforms that the conservative Cixi disapproved of, she had him placed under house arrest. His reign technically continued until 1908, but, as always, Empress Dowager Cixi was 垂簾聽政 - taking care of business from behind a curtain.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 - 1 April 1204) - Unlike the previous two historical mothers, this French wife of Henry II of England did not give birth to feeble, pliant sons - her third-eldest (the first to become king) was Richard the Lionheart, and her fifth (the second to become king) was John Lackland (“Prince John”). She did rule as regent, however, as Richard went off crusading. But even before her marriage to Henry, Eleanor was a Duchess in her own right, having inherited the entire Duchy of Aquitaine at age fifteen. She married twice; her first marriage was to Louis VII, King of the Franks, but this was annulled; the second was to Henry, whom she asked to marry her, two months after the annulment of her first marriage. Clearly, she was a woman who got what she wanted. She eventually bore him eight children, and she outlived six of them.
Agrippina the Younger (7 November 15 - 23 March 59) - Agrippina the Younger was the great-granddaughter of Augustus, sister of Caligula, wife (and niece) of Claudius, and the mother of Nero. As Empress consort, she was the most powerful woman in the Empire. When Claudius began to favor his son Britannicus over her own son Nero, however, he died suddenly and suspiciously (ancient sources state that Agrippina poisoned him, but this is unconfirmed). Nero’s accession did very little to further Agrippina’s power, however. Although she tried to take control of her son’s empire, Nero proved less yielding than she had expected and resisted his mother’s ambitious grabs for power. He attempted more than once to have her murdered. The actual circumstances of her death are unclear, though apparently her son viewed her more as a political rival than his mother and did indeed have her executed.
And on that somewhat morbid note, we end. Don’t forget to wish your own mother a happy Mother’s Day!
The Codex Gigas (Giant Book), also known as the Devil’s Bible, is the largest extant medieval manuscript in the world. According to the Codex legend, the single scribe was a monk who breached his monastic code and was sentenced to be walled up alive with no chance of escape. There was only one way the monk could avoid his excruciating death, he promised to create a beautiful, and fascinating book to glorify the monastery forever; a book that would include all human knowledge. There was one catch, he was given only twenty-four hours to complete the task in and if the monk would complete the task, then be free to live.
Read about Codex Gigas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Gigas
Plague doctors were individuals in the Middle Ages who were given the task of tending to people infected with the plague. In most cases, they were either second rate or under-trained physicians, incapable of maintaining their own practice. Many were not doctors at all, but people of various other employments paid by towns to cater to the sick.
Plague doctors were employed in various methods whenever plague set in. The earliest documentation of these individuals being hired go as far back as the mid 500s AD. The plague doctor image that we as a general public are familiar with was not seen until the 1600s. It was then that the “traditional” plague doctor costume was created. The costume consisted of a cloak made of heavy fabric covered in wax to protect the doctor’s body, and a mask to keep out the sick air. The masks had a long cone shaped structure at the nose, to be filled with scents that would protect the doctor from the bad air.
Because of the nature of their work, plague doctors often became victims of the plague themselves, or were quarantined for the protection of the public.
Just picture being sick for a moment, probably dying of the plague, and one of these creepy bastards coming to work on you.
Bubonic Plague - Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis is always a fun little organism to see under the microscope. It’s a Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria, but it looks more like a safety-pin than a “rod” because of the natural bi-polar staining pattern of the organism. The species was found to be the causative agent of bubonic plague during an 1894 epidemic in Hong Kong, by Alexandre Yersin. Until 1967, however, it was categorized with the Pasteurella genus, and was known as Pasteurella pestis.
There are several strains of Y. pestis, and three different manifestations of the plague:
- Bubonic plague - Incubation period of 2-6 days with few symptoms, while bacteria multiply within lymph nodes. Sudden fever and headache at end of incubation period, with complete loss of energy. The characteristic buboes (lymph swellings) appear at this point, as the lymph nodes swell to enormous proportions thanks to the bacteria within them. The inguinal (groin) nodes generally are the first to show signs of infection.
- Septicemic plague - Same bacteria, different strain of Y. pestis, and way worse. From what we know, primary septicemic plague is generally caused by one unique strain, or by any strain in immuno-compromised patients. When the other manifestations of the disease cause overwhelming sepsis prior to death, this is known as secondary septicemic plague. Primary septicemic plague is characterized by hypotension, shock, hepatosplenomegaly (swollen spleen and liver), and death. Sometimes very few or even no outward symptoms develop before the patient is killed by the bacteria’s internal effects.
- Pneumonic plague - Caused by direct inhalation of bacteria (often person-to-person), with initial site of infection being the lungs. Different strains have different degrees of ability to transfer in this manner, but it generally requires prolonged contact with infected persons or animals. Causes tracheal and bronchial hemorrhaging, large amounts of alveolar exudate, congestion of the lungs, and pleural edema. Often quickly spreads to other organs, much like bubonic plague.
While all three manifestations of the disease can be deadly, the incidence of death is greatly reduced by IV antibiotics, and thanks to modern sanitation standards, outbreaks in developed countries are unheard of.
Still, Yersinia pestis isn’t, and probably never will be, completely exterminated. Wild animals such as rodents, prairie dogs, and some marsupials and primates are known to both be affected by and serve as reservoirs for the bacteria. This means that even if humans somehow stopped acquiring the plague for a while, the bacteria itself would still be around, and we would still be able to contract it.
Interestingly, a 2011 study in the journal Nature showed that the strain of Y. pestis which caused the Black Death in both the 1st century C.E. and the early Middle Ages may no longer be extant. The genome of the bacteria analyzed from victims of those plagues showed a more ancient form of Y. pestis that lacked a number of the mutations that exist in current-day strains, which are known to have caused all epidemics beyond the Renaissance.
- Bacillus of Bubonic Plague - Elementary Bacteriology and Protozoology, for the use of Nurses. Herbert Fox, 1919.
- Swelling of inguinal bubo in U.S. soldier - From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ca. 1970.
- Plague victims being blessed by priest - Omne Bonum. James le Palmer, 1360.
- Mass grave of plague victims- From Martiques, France, dated to the last pandemic of plague in Europe, between 1720 and 1722.
- Plague Riot of Moscow - Depicts the rioting during and after the 1770s Moscow epidemic.
The Plague Doctor
Afraid of your current doctor? Well you should be really thankful you didn’t live in this notable era. We have the plague doctor, who a number of game-fanatics would immediately label him as ‘that man who sort of resembles psycho-mantis.’ And who can blame them? The image is quite a disturbing one for a practitioner in medicine, but back then this was their general uniform.
Popular during the plague outbursts and a little afterward, they were not only known for their odd attire, but also by their various methods in battling the plague. These poor quacks had believed that the plague revolved around something in the air, evil and even birds - when in actual fact the most efficient method of battling against it would have been a simple. Goddamn. Bath.
More so, a notable plague doctor was our very well known foreseer Nostradamus, who in actual fact actually had good advice available when it came to the black death. Which was, as mentioned earlier cleanliness and evacuation. He had said that one must drink only boiled water, use only clean bed linens, and to leave an area as soon as possible that was believed to be infected with the Black Death.
And one should always believe the man who has an eye in the future - am I right? No? Alright…
Like all doctors, they studied; stretched out their knowledge in order to find a cure for black death. One doctor, Matteo fu Angelo (1348) was hired to perform autopsies and was even paid four times the amount a normal doctor would be paid, which was 50 florins a year. Of course back then that was equivalent to a doctor’s salary nowadays, but still…
As well as being family doctors, they also served as ‘public servants’ whenever an epidemic struck. So it was certain that when there was an illness present, the beak doctors were there, too. It wasn’t an exciting sight as much as a worrying one, mind you.
The Doctor’s garb:
- The wide brimmed hat: Black and having a questionable amount of radius (what’s even more questionable is how they were able to see with both the hat and the mask…) is the doctor’s wide brimmed hat. It not only ‘identified’ the doctor in his career, but was also a way to ‘prevent’ infection or avoid it.
- Primitive gas mask: In the form of a bird’s beak. So it was believed that the plague was spread by birds (and that the infection ran through the air, also - hence the ‘gas mask’.). The mask was often filled with herbs to ‘purify the air inside’ (as well as to remove the order of rotting corpses) and came with an attachment of red glasses. To make the wearer impervious to evil, of course.
- Long, black trench-coat: Covering most of the doctor - another way of keeping him protected against the plague. It was likely that the overcoat was waxed to simply prevent sputum or other bodily fluids from clinging to it. Under the trench-coat of course, were leather breaches, unknowingly, protected the doctor from fleas moving from one host to the other.
- A long wooden cane: Or known as the ‘wellness stick’, was used to examine patients from a safe distance without getting infected.
Aside the wacky attire, the doctor came with his equally wacky methods. Herbs were an innocent method, but another, which was rather horrifying was making the patient drink mercury - perhaps a faster death is best?
They later began to die away as a breed and for a number of reasons: Stress in their career, as well as battling against an illness they so willingly tried to defeat. Nowadays they are used as a metaphor, looked back on in history and also seen as a costume for Venice’s Carnevale.
But I can’t not admit that they are interesting to read about - as well as amusing, of course.