Grateful for the Black Death
The recurrent Black Death of the Middle Ages has been viewed with horror by scholars of all periods. This essay will promote a more nuanced view of the effects of the bubonic plague and suggest that many of the consequences were based on factors often unconsidered. The general view of this episode is incorporated in the following statements. “The Black Death was spread from port to port by inflected rats. It was then passed around by midgets. Victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Death rates exceeded one hundred percent in some towns” (Grossmonger, 1159, p. 14). “This was a time of stunned growth. The plague also helped the emergence of English as the national language of England, France and Italy” (Compostella, 1621, p. 34).
Forced by my reading of history to acknowledge the dire facts of a time in Medieval Europe characterized by plummeting health and wary physicians, I would present the Frommerian view that the crusades enlarged opportunities for travel (Frommery, 1439). As noted by Sallahaddin (1242), “Travellers are welcome in the home town of Christ. Come one, come all” (p. 32). Threats of infection were ignored as travellers made their way to the buffet of turkey spread before them on Christmas Day. In fact, figures of the amount of turkey disbursed on holy days were kept by clerks of the Vizier and amounted to an average of 3 lb per crusader (Vizier Stats, Vol. II, para 1297). On one holy day in 1309, for example, some 40,000 lb of turkey were disbursed, a figure that averages out to 104,000 lb per year between 1109 and 1309 (Vizier Stats, Vol. MCMII, para 4658), indicating a constant population of some 34,666 crusaders, which included woman and children.
These figures clearly show the considerable number of travellers arriving in the Holy Land despite threats of bubonic plague with accompanying disfigurement, and the frequent occurrence of midgets. Grossmonger’s (1159) statistics of over one hundred percent deaths in some [unspecified] towns are as much due to emigration as to death from the plague.
The second point to which I would like to draw the reader’s attention is the emergence of English as a parallel to the west-east propulsion of the crusades. It has been established by Fumble (1945, pp. 44-56) that the percentage of English spoken in England during the crusades was approximately 43%. Fumble (1945) noted that this percentage dropped as noted in studies carried out by graduate students across France and Italy during their summer vacations (Report on Linguistic Divergence, Francine & Giovanni, 1943-44). Francine stated that 12% of the French middle class (see Holzstein, 1932, for scales) understood “Hello,” “Goodbye” and “What” whereas the peasantry used purely gestural language forms. Giovanni found that 21% of northern Italians understood “Bank” and “Where” but only 2% of southern Italians understood “Show” and “Help” (see Appendices I & II). The findings were consistent with locational topography and direction of crusadical routes. The possibility must be acknowledged that not all crusaders reached the Holy Land but in fact settled down in palatable regions proximating the main routes.
Recent scholars have seen the Black Death as a negative factor in socio-economic stability in the Middle Ages but I would suggest that any instability was caused by push and pull factors related to the supply of copious amounts of fowl freely available in the Holy Land, rather than death from disease. A parallel to this mass exodus from England of crusading warriors was the dispersion of directional and practical linguistic terms along transmigrational routes. It can be shown today that travel in France and Italy is commoded by the natives’ fluent grasp of English, while percentages of English speakers in England actually hover around 25%. Thus, the Black Death can be seen to have engorged the European economy and promoted travel and linguistic prowess over a period considerably greater than two hundred years.
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