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Old 29 January 2008, 09:11 AM
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Skull Black Death did not kill indiscriminately, experts say

The Black Death that decimated populations in Europe and elsewhere during the middle of the 14th century may not have been a blindly indiscriminate killer, as some experts have believed.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080128/...ague_europe_dc
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Old 29 January 2008, 10:43 AM
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To be perfectly honest I do not think that this report really says anything new. When I was studying history in York in the 1970s we were told something very similar. Estimates vary, but it is thought that about 20% (perhaps higher) of people who caught the plague survived. It does not take a genius to work out that if you were otherwise healthy you have a better chance of surviving than the already infirm or aged.

Many people had a greater resistence to the plague than others. This was shown when we studied the next major outbreak of the plague (at least in Yorkshire). This was in 1381, about thirty years after the first outbreak. Studies have shown that the death rate among the under thirties was higher than in the over thirties - even including elderly people aged sixty or over. This was because - it is thought - that having survived the first visit of the plague they either had greater resistence to the plague or had built up some immunity.

In addition richer people could move away from plague 'black spots' into the relative safety of isolated communities.

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But we know that there were some areas where mortality was even higher. So there would have been villages that were completely wiped out
England has over 4,000 deserted mediaeval villages (DMVs) and many of them became deserted in the mid-fourteenth century because of the plague. However, studies I looked at in the 1970s showed that, in Yorkshire at least, relatively few - in fact hardly any - were completely 'wiped out'. When an isolated village in the Yorkshire Dales or Moors falls beneath a certain number it becomes unviable and the survivors move to larger villages or towns. It thus looks as if a village suffered a 100% death rate, but it may still have only been 30% to 50% but this was enough to force the survivors to move.

(Sorry, I am expecting an important phone call so I can not look up any references.)
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Old 29 January 2008, 04:24 PM
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I don't recall learning that the Plague killed indiscriminately, I recall learning that the people of the time did not know how it was transmitted and who was vulnerable, which made it hard for them to avoid infection.

Seaboe
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Old 29 January 2008, 04:56 PM
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I don't recall learning that the Plague killed indiscriminately, I recall learning that the people of the time did not know how it was transmitted and who was vulnerable, which made it hard for them to avoid infection.

Seaboe
Not exactly. One of my history classed presented writings that seemed to indicate that they had some understanding of the plague (its symptoms and such) to the degree that they would warn visitors via sign. Of course said knowledge would depend on where you lived. Some villages would be better equipped than other I suppose.
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Old 29 January 2008, 05:34 PM
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A documentary on PBS pointed out that some people were genetically immune to the plague and that that same immunity was able to stop aids from developing. A gay man watched his friends die all around him but never got aids himself. His genetic lineage could be traced back to plague survivors in England, as I recall, and the specific gene variation he had had been identified by scientists.
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Old 29 January 2008, 05:36 PM
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I don't recall learning that the Plague killed indiscriminately
Me neither. I heard it was created by medieval alchemists to kill Africans and Muslims.

- snopes
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Old 29 January 2008, 05:39 PM
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Me neither. I heard it was created by medieval alchemists to kill Africans and Muslims.

- snopes
No, spread by Jewish immigrants and lepers to kill good Christians:

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewis...lackdeath.html
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Old 29 January 2008, 05:43 PM
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I think they knew enough to know that if you were close to someone who had the plague then you may well catch it. Hence the well off fled the cities to the countryside and houses where the plague was were isolated. For example the Irish friar, John of Clyn wrote, 'In scarcely any house did only one die, but all together, man and wife and children, traversed the same road, the road of death.'

The church tried to claim it was discriminate and was a punishment for the sins of the people (one abbot compared the pestilence to the flood). However, when clergy and monks died in an equal proportion to the laity they had to change their tune.
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Old 29 January 2008, 06:15 PM
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The church tried to claim it was discriminate and was a punishment for the sins of the people (one abbot compared the pestilence to the flood).
Of course the religious groups would do such a thing. Back in my Eropesn history days, I learned that the Church said a great deal of things that were intended to get people to (in the end) donate to the church.

Unfortunately back in the days people believed that God was a bit more active in their day to day lives and were more likely to accept that God was involved over more complicated things like biology. This of course as you point out, got better as the clergy started being affected and people got a better idea of how the Plague actually worked.
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Old 30 January 2008, 06:12 AM
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No, spread by Jewish immigrants and lepers to kill good Christians:
I would say that it was spread by all minority groups someone had a grudge against...
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Old 30 January 2008, 06:20 AM
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Lately the cause of plague is being reconsidered - not fleas and rats, but something similar to Ebola. Many of our beliefs about plague may be incorrect. I recall reading in New Scientist 3 or 4 years back that Yersinia pestis was not showing up in plague pits under investigation and researchers were starting to think the big plagues were due to a viral disease that has now become extinct (and Yersinia pestis, if present at all, could have been a secondary infection of people already infected by an "Ebola-like" virus).
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Old 30 January 2008, 03:05 PM
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This may be a myth, and I don't have a cite for it. But I read somewhere that Jews had a slightly lower mortality rate from the Black Death. This could have been because, in a time when most people thought washing and bathing was of the Devil, Jewish custom mandated a fairly high standard of personal hygiene.

Back in those days, the mortality rate was high - even without the plague. Most people did not live past 40. The child mortality rate was something like 50%; the biggest killer of healthy women was childbirth. And many people, especially the poor would have lived in crowded, unhealthy conditions, and would not have had an adequate diet to maintain their immune system at the best of times. Along comes the Black Death, and people, many already rundown, dropped like the proverbial flies.
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Old 30 January 2008, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by catty5nutz View Post
This may be a myth, and I don't have a cite for it. But I read somewhere that Jews had a slightly lower mortality rate from the Black Death.
I think that this would be hard to prove. As M H Keen says, writing about the economic and political effects of the plague in his book 'England in the Later Middle Ages',

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The perecentage by which the plague reduced the population will always be open to question
Using statistics from various English dioceses he says that the Sees of Lincoln and York had about a 40% mortality rate, whilst others had over 50%. He points out that parish records usually just record the number of deaths and do not distinguish between deaths from the plague or other causes. In addition dioceses collected statistics in different ways. Clergy were usually to busy burying the dead and comforting the living to bother to record the manner of deaths - let alone whether they were Christian or Jew.
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Old 30 January 2008, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by catty5nutz View Post
in a time when most people thought washing and bathing was of the Devil.
Cite, please.

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Back in those days, the mortality rate was high - even without the plague. Most people did not live past 40. The child mortality rate was something like 50%; the biggest killer of healthy women was childbirth. And many people, especially the poor would have lived in crowded, unhealthy conditions, and would not have had an adequate diet to maintain their immune system at the best of times. Along comes the Black Death, and people, many already rundown, dropped like the proverbial flies.
To say that "most people did not live past 40" is desperately over simplified. The vast majority of people who lived past the age of five lived what we would consider a normal life span. Most of the poor did not live in crowded, unhealthy conditions outside the cities--and most of the poor lived outside of cities.

Seaboe
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Old 30 January 2008, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
To say that "most people did not live past 40" is desperately over simplified. The vast majority of people who lived past the age of five lived what we would consider a normal life span.
Thank you for addressing that misunderstanding of "average life span." It's a munchkin of mine.
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Old 30 January 2008, 06:40 PM
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Thank you for addressing that misunderstanding of "average life span." It's a munchkin of mine.
I belong to another board where a woman with a PhD in Early Modern Europe also posts. Both the life span issue and the washing issue are major munchkins of hers. As she puts it "if no one washed, what did they do with all that soap?" (because soap happens to be a commodity you can search for prices on during the 17th century).

Seaboe
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Old 30 January 2008, 06:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
I belong to another board where a woman with a PhD in Early Modern Europe also posts. Both the life span issue and the washing issue are major munchkins of hers. As she puts it "if no one washed, what did they do with all that soap?" (because soap happens to be a commodity you can search for prices on during the 17th century).

Seaboe
Once when I was showing some children around a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall I mentioned that Roman soldiers when they retired in the 40s received a pension and a plot of land. The children's teacher was aghast and said that they should be dead as the average age for Romans to die at was 36. I had to be very careful as I pointed out about infant mortality, death in childbirth, etc, etc, all reducing the average age.
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Old 30 January 2008, 08:14 PM
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In addition dioceses collected statistics in different ways. Clergy were usually to busy burying the dead and comforting the living to bother to record the manner of deaths - let alone whether they were Christian or Jew.
I seriously doubt that a Christian parish or dioceses would record the death of a non-Christian. To compare Christian and non-Christian deaths you would need the records from the Synagogue covering the same area.

During this time period, statistics such as births, death and marriages were not consistently kept by the government. Indeed, in many cases, the governments kept no useable records. It was the churches, synagogues etc. that kept the only decent records. The religious organizations only kept records on people within the particular religion.

People doing genealogical research in Europe back to the 14th century get the majority of their info from church records.
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Old 30 January 2008, 08:19 PM
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Using statistics from various English dioceses he says that the Sees of Lincoln and York had about a 40% mortality rate, whilst others had over 50%. He points out that parish records usually just record the number of deaths and do not distinguish between deaths from the plague or other causes. In addition dioceses collected statistics in different ways. Clergy were usually to busy burying the dead and comforting the living to bother to record the manner of deaths - let alone whether they were Christian or Jew.
Plus, Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
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Old 30 January 2008, 09:56 PM
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Plus, Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
They were indeed. However, they were not expelled from other countries where the plague struck. It would have been just as hard to determine rates of mortality in these countries as much as it was in England.
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