Severity and Selectivity of the Black Death and Recurring Plague in the Southern Netherlands (1349-1450)
By Joris Roosen
Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History, Vol.14:4 (2018)
Abstract: The Black Death is the textbook villain when it comes to the study of historical diseases and to the general public it remains a thought-provoking subject. To illustrate, in 2017 over three million viewers accessed the English Wikipedia’s Black Death page, compared to present-day Ebola which only had less than one million. Despite the wide drawing power of the Black Death, some of its most basic characteristics are still debated in academic circles. The focus of this paper will be on the severity of the Black Death and recurring plague outbreaks in the Southern Netherlands.
More specifically it will reflect on the general assumption that plague evolved from a ‘universal killer’ to a more selective and less severe disease over time. Due to the scarcity of late medieval sources and a lack of quantifiable indicators, little is known about the causal mechanisms at work during the late Middle Ages. This paper offers a newly-compiled database of 25,610 individuals that died between 1349-1450 in the County of Hainaut to test a number of assumptions on the selectivity and severity of late medieval plague outbreaks.
Introduction: Plague is considered the most deadly infectious disease in history. Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, it sparked off three widespread pandemics: the Justinian plague of 541-767, the second pandemic which started with the Black Death in 1347,1 and the third pandemic which occurred during the middle of the nineteenth century. Although less severe than the two previous pandemics, with mortality mostly affecting India, it spread plague to ports across the globe.
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