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Chapter 4 : An Ancient Plague, the Black Death

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Abstract:

During the last 2,500 years, three great plague pandemics have resulted in social and economic upheavals unmatched by armed conflicts or any other infectious disease. In Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire in the East, it was the first plague pandemic (A.D. 542-543) that surely contributed to Justinian’s failure to restore imperial unity. In the year 1346 the second pandemic began, and by the time it disappeared in 1353, the population of Europe and the Middle East had been reduced from 100 million to 80 million people (Fig. 4.1). This devastating pandemic, known as the Black Death, the Great Dying, or the Great Pestilence, put an end to the rise in the human population that had begun in 5000 B.C., and it took more than 150 years for the population to return to its former size. Some believe this catastrophic crash in population to be Malthus’s prophecy come true, while others, such as the historian David Herlihy, consider the Black Death to be not a catastrophe promoted by “positive checks” (i.e., disease, war, and famine) but an exogenous factor that served to break a Malthusian stalemate. That is, despite fluctuations in population size, relatively stable population levels were maintained over prolonged periods of time due to “preventive checks” (i.e., changes in inheritance practices, delay in the age of marriage, and birth controls). The Black Death did more than break the Malthusian stalemate; it allowed Europeans to restructure their society along very different paths.

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Figures

Image of Figure 4.1
Figure 4.1

by Felix Jenewein (1900) shows a mother carrying a coffin with her child (Courtesy Wellcome Library, London, CC-BY 4.0)

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.2
Figure 4.2

by Pieter Brueghel (1562), Courtesy Wellcome Library, London, CC-BY 4.0

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.3
Figure 4.3

St. Roch, the patron saint of those suffering from plague. The original hangs in the Galleria Dell’ Academia, Venice, Italy, Courtesy Wikipedia.com

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.4
Figure 4.4

Dr. Pestis, the plague doctor in costume, Courtesy Wikipedia.com

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.5
Figure 4.5

A barber-surgeon lancing a bubo. Woodcut

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.6 A.
Figure 4.6 A.

Bubo of bubonic plague (courtesy of CDC, 1993)

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.6 B.
Figure 4.6 B.

The causative agent, stained and seen with light microscope (courtesy CDC)

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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Image of Figure 4.7
Figure 4.7

Flea as seen with the scanning electron microscope. Courtesy CDC/Janice Haney Carr

Citation: Sherman I. 2017. An Ancient Plague, the Black Death, p 66-89. In The Power of Plagues, Second Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781683670018.ch4
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