The Black Death in early Ottoman territories: 1347-1550
By Gisele Marien
Master’s Thesis, Bilkent University, 2009
Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to analyze the possible impact of the Black Death on the early Ottoman society. Firstly, a temporal and spatial analysis of the outbreaks was established using contemporary Ottoman, Byzantine and Latin sources. In view of the territorial expansion of the Ottoman state in the period studied, information on the adjacent territories was included. The response towards plague was then evaluated taking into account the information obtained on the frequency and geographical distribution of the disease and contrasted with certain previous theories on the impact of plague on Ottoman society. The study reveals that the high frequency of plague outbreaks identified by this study can be linked to a behavior of overall acceptance and to specific actions of an administrative and religious nature.
Introduction: Recent years have seen a marked increase of interest in the Black Death, the medieval bubonic plague pandemic that arrived in Europe in 1347. Some explanation of this revival can be traced to the 9/11 attacks, which were followed by an anthrax scare and the subsequent avian influenza pandemic, both of which intensified academic interest in lethal epidemics. Both historians and scientists have produced a number of monographs and articles ranging from the academic to the spectacularly popular. In the wake of this activity, some Ottoman scholars have signalled the lack of studies dealing with the Black Death in the early Ottoman period. Indeed, apart from the efforts of Lowry and Schamiloğlu, no recent publication was exclusively devoted to plague in early Ottoman history. Both authors claim the paucity of sources to be an obstacle to the study of the disease in that period. Though the absence of any systematic approach of the subject is evident, plague has been mentioned in a number of publications as a causative agent in the historical process. However, any assertions concerning the impact of plague epidemics on Ottoman history are hampered by the fact that no studies are available that try to elucidate the patterns of frequency of outbreaks and their exact localisation.
In view of this apparent void, it is the aim of this thesis to bring together a number of data that illustrate the impact of the disease on the early Ottoman society from the first Black Death outbreak to the first half of the 16th century. The relative abundance of sources for the latter half of the 16th and for the 17th century and the territorial expansion of the Ottoman Empire in that period would have widened the scope of this inquiry too much, and made the amount of material too unwieldy to process within the framework of a master’s thesis.