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Re: Medieval diseases

Poster: carl christianson <einar@cvn.net>

Elen Prydydd grabs her handy copy of William McNeill's _Plagues and Peoples_:

At 09:09 PM 12/7/98 -0500, you wrote:
>Poster: keith.finn@erols.com
>I stand corrected.  I responded to this one late in the evening, and my
>copy of Tuchman's "Distant Mirror" was all the way on the other side of
>the house, and I didn't look before I leapt.  Apologies.  
>David KUIJT wrote:
>> > > Does anyone know of any sites that discuss Medieval diseases in the
>> > > 1200s?  I'm looking for one that's contagious but can be overcome and
>> > > would leave faded scars.  Thank you very much in advance.
>> > I believe the black plague was occasionally survived, and left scars,
>> > but I'm no expert on disease (outside of my diseased mind).
>> >
>> > Finn
>> The black plague didn't enter Europe for the first time until 1347 (+/- 1
>> or 2 depending upon where you were), 60 years after the late 1200s.
>> Dafydd

This will sound a bit terse, but that's because I'm trying to distill down
McNeill, and is he ever wordy!!  One minor quibble (before we get to the
major ones ;->) that I have is imprecise terminology.  It's not the black
plague, it's the Black Death.  The term Black Death is used specifically
for the bubonic plague pandemic of 1347 that depopulated huge sections of
Europe, and had decimated Dar es-Islam prior to reaching the western
Mediterranean ports.  Now, on to diseases that could fit the original
querent's parameters...

McNeill is of the opinion that numerous plagues hit Europe well before
1347, and that smallpox and measles were two of these epidemic diseases.
It has been speculated that the Antonine plague of 165-180 CE may have been
smallpox or something similar -- which would have left scars.  More
importantly, it initiated a substantial decay in the Mediterranean world,
which means the disease became endemic.  It is possible that this is when a
smallpox-type diease became established in Europe.  Another epidemic of
disastrous proportions occured in the Roman world c. 251-266 CE.  That one
could have been measles.  Gregory of Tours, Galen and al-Razi mention
severe diseases that were accompanied by skin rashes, and all three were
writing before 1000 CE.  Both of these types of viruses remained in the
population, often dormant, but not infrequently active and virulent.  Pox
would fit your requirements, Finn.  

Now, to address bubonic plague specifically:  McNeill on page 123
specifically cites a description by Procopius of the Justinian plague of
542-543 CE.  This disease was **probably** bubonic plague.  However, it
disappeared and did not reappear in Europe until the 14th century.  The
disease is believed to be of South Asian origin, and considering that the
Romans were definitely trading with South Asia (this is widely recognized
by many specialists in the areas of the classical world, medieval Middle
East and ancient South Asia, and trade in general), this is probably when
the disease first broke out of the subcontinent.  Why it went back to being
dormant in the Mediterranean world, nobody knows.  Ask a historian of
medicine (no, I'm not) for specifics.  Remember, bubonic plague takes two
different forms:  one form involves the development of buboes, and the
other is pneumonic and absolutely lethal without antibiotic treatment.

Sorry, Dafydd, the bubonic plague was there in Europe briefly before
1347... and I think the 6th century counts as being at least on the
transition between the classical era and the early medieval era.

McNeill's wordy as he&&, but he's very interesting if you want to throw in
to your considerations the effects of contagious diseases.  Check him out.

Elen Prydydd

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