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Death Riches

from BBC

When a third of Europe’s population was lost, wealth concentrated into tiny groups. Could Covid-19 trigger something similar?

By Eleanor Russell, University of Cambridge and Martin Parker, University of Bristol

Copyright ALAMY

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.

In June 1348, people in England began reporting mysterious symptoms. They started off as mild and vague: headaches, aches, and nausea. This was followed by painful black lumps, or buboes, growing in the armpits and groin, which gave the disease its name: bubonic plague. The last stage was a high fever, and then death.

Originating in Central Asia, soldiers and caravans had brought bubonic plague – Yersina pestis, a bacterium carried on fleas that lived on rats – to ports on the Black Sea. The highly commercialised world of the Mediterranean ensured the plague’s swift transfer on merchant ships to Italy, and then across Europe. The Black Death killed between a third and a half of the population of Europe and the Near East.

This huge number of deaths was accompanied by general economic devastation. With a third of the workforce dead, the crops could not be harvested and communities fell apart. One in ten villages in England (and in Tuscany and other regions) were lost and never re-founded. Houses fell into the ground and were covered by grass and earth, leaving only the church behind. If you ever see a church or chapel all alone in a field, you are probably looking at the last remains of one of Europe’s lost villages.

The traumatic experience of the Black Death, which killed perhaps 80% of those who caught it, drove many people to write in an attempt to make sense of what they had lived through. In Aberdeen, John of Fordun, a Scottish chronicler, recorded that:

This sickness befell people everywhere, but especially the middling and lower classes, rarely the great. It generated such horror that children did not dare to visit their dying parents, nor parents their children, but fled for fear of contagion as if from leprosy or a serpent.

These lines could almost have been written today.

[ click to continue reading at BBC ]

Posted on July 1, 2020 by Editor

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