It all started from the siege by the Tatars of the fortress Caffa (today Feodosia, in Crimea), a Genoese colony since 1280. The assailants, to conquer it, threw the bodies of plagues, a form of bacteriological warfare before letters, I would say today. The gateway to Europe of the terrible disease was, as recently as the case of coronavirus, Italy, where, in Messina, in October 1347, anchored a Genoese ship coming from Caffa.
From here, through the black rats (rattus rattus), the terrible plague spread throughout Italy, then throughout the body of the old continent.
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„Epidemia a ucis nu mai puțin de o treime din populația lumii, iar, într-o Europă deja slăbită de foamete, este posibil să fi murit un procent chiar mai mare”Simon Jenkins,author
In absolute numbers, the number of dead is estimated at over 26 million. The disease was terrifying not only because of the high level of mortality, but also because of its dreadful clinical appearance.
At the beginning of the disease, both men and women came out on the lower limbs or on the claws [the joint of the femur with the pelvis – nn] some swellings, some of which were like an apple, others were like an egg, which bigger, smaller, and their swelling the people were saying bubbly. And from the little ones and the cliffs in a very short time, the death-bubbling bubble was caught, spreading all over the body; after that, the condition [the joint, the order – n.n.] the disease changed and many appeared black spots or veins on the arms, thighs and other parts, some large and rare, others thick and small.And, as the bubble had been at the beginning, and still was, undoubtedly a sign of death, so were the stains, if they were on your body. In their healing neither the advice of the doctors nor the power of a cure did not help and did not seem to be good at something … not only that there were few who were healing, but on the contrary, almost all died until the third day after the signs I mentioned above, who sooner, later, and most without any worries or other shortcomings ”(Giovanni Boccacio).
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The plague did not spare anyone, equalizing the chances of everyone facing death, proving that among the high-ranking victims of “Black Death” were Joanna, the wife of King David II of Scotland, Alfonso XI, King of Castile. , Leonor, the wife of Pedro IV, the king of Aragon, Simeon the Proud, great diner of Kiev and Vladimir etc. The reaction of the population to the pandemic was different, but the most common was – according to the mentality of the time – finding some culprits on religious considerations.
Some have blamed a papacy perceived as inefficient and corrupt, thus liable to God’s punishment. Others found the eternal “guilty” of all ages at hand: Jews. In one night, over 2,000 Jews were slaughtered in Strasbourg, another several tens of thousands choosing the path of exile in much more tolerant Poland of Cazimir the Great (1333-1370).
From the plague the empire was incarnated
Paradoxically, among the consequences of the scourge of the plague, beyond the tragedy of the circumstances and the lives lost, there were also beneficial effects for some countries, difficult to suspect at the time of their production. In England, for example, the country’s population has dropped from 4 million to 2.5 million. The immediate result was that the labor force became rarer, so more expensive.
The king’s and parliament’s attempts to keep the price of labor at the pre-plague level have completely failed. In these conditions, the lords, landowners, gave up the cultivation of cereals, restricting their properties and turning them into pastures for sheep. Logically, the production of wool greatly increased, which, even before the crisis caused by the plague, was an export material for the weavers in Flanders.
Only now do the English nobles find their entrepreneurial vocation and they resort to the Flemish craftsmen to create in the British territory the workshops of post and cloth products. In modern terms, sheep owners prefer not to sell raw material anymore, but to export value-added products.
The next step is to look for new markets for the production of fabrics, an opportunity for the English ships to split the waves of the North Sea, which transforms it into the new Mediterranean, instead of the old one suffused by the Ottoman advance, and then to face the Atlantic thalassus in the vision of prospecting the new overseas territories, which were slowly being explored, colonized and conquered, thus setting the milestones of the future British Empire.
And this is how, thanks to the plague, the English wool becomes the source of the well-being and prestige of the later British. Not by chance, a gold sheep will be placed on the London Stock Exchange, and the Lord Chancellor, so the head of the House of Commons, will sit during a sitting of Parliament on a woolen sack.
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