The Plague’s path of destruction

The plague’s visitation in each place lasted for about a year; the first cities struck down were starting to see no new cases, a year later. But it took a full three years for the disease to work its way through all of Europe. Italy was in recovery before Germany began to suffer.

It’s significant that Germany was affected last, because people’s coping strategies changed as time went on, and their subcultural ways were already different. Before we discuss Germany’s hysterical response, we have to see what had come before.

The plague began in Sicily, Marseille and Genoa. We have very detailed records from Italy, France and England; we have fewer records from Spain and Germany. Here is a general plot of the infectious progress:

November, 1347: Constantinople, Messina, Marseille, Genoa
January, 1348: Avignon (France); Venice (Italian island); Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, across the sea from Venice)
March, 1348: Spain; Florence, Italy (disease moves inland)
June, 1348: Paris, France
August, 1348: Rome, Italy (more inland progression); coast of England
September, 1348: spreading in France and Spain
November, 1348: London, England

By this time, as the plague grew severe in London, Genoa and Marseille were seeing no new cases. Each month that the plague grew worse in the north, the Mediterranean’s health improved. But when the plague struck in the north, they didn’t yet know that it would only be a year to hold on; that’s hindsight at work. So by 1349, the northern Baltic regions, and inland on Europe’s rivers, were just beginning to catch the infection but had heard all about just how terrible it was. They were terrified.

April, 1349: Norway
June, 1349: Sweden; Bavaria and Vienna
August, 1349: Poland
January, 1350: Scotland, Ireland

1349 was the calamitous year for central Europe. The plague was still at peak in London and Paris, and now each German city was holding its breath awaiting its first case. This is the period when the Flagellants began to pilgrimage around Flanders and nearby, flogging themselves to bleeding and crying out for God’s mercy. Europe completely despaired. They were only starting to see that Italy was doing better, so the news didn’t cheer them at all.

The emotional trauma of a four year period of calamitous sickness, even if not every region was in the same straits at all times, changed Europe’s culture. By 1351, the worst was over. Some regions had been touched lightly, like the hills of Ireland, but most had lost between 30 and 60% of their population.

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