PLAGUE, History of the. The plague, so-called, has been a general name for centuries for any prevailing sickness that carried off great numbers of people. While all the instan ces recorded below are spoken of as "the plague" it is probable that several diseases have figured in the records. See BLACK DEATH ; BUBONIC PLAGUE (concerning the modes of communication of the plague), very different opinions have been entertained, according to the state of medical science. In early times, when calamitous events, the causes of which were not understood, were attributed to spirits and de mons, the plague was also ascribed to their in fluence. At a later period it was accounted for by changes in the air, by poisonous vapors which descended from the atmosphere, or was attributed to clouds of insects which were re ceived into the body by inspiration, or in the food, or by absorption through the skin, thus corrupting the blood. There are certain condi tions which have always attended outbreaks of the plague. The chief of these are unwhole some and insufficient food, overcrowding, bad ventilation, accumulation in the neighborhood of dwellings of decaying animal and vegetable refuse. In short, these conditions may be summed up in the words, upoverty and bad sani tation." The cold weather of northern latitudes has been observed to check the advance of plagues. In Europe the late summer and au tumn months have been marked by its deadliest ravages. It is endemic in certain localities of Asia (parts of Mesopotamia, India, China), and when it has appeared in Europe it seems always to have been traced to the East. It has often been carried by ships, no doubt by one or other of the crew being infected, and not by the mer chandise.
There is little doubt that the plague ap peared in the most ancient times, particularly where a numerous population was crowded to gether in the warm climates; but we must not consider every disease as the plague which has been so called by historians, as they often mean by the term nothing more than a malignant dis order prevailing over a considerable extent of country. Among the most famous instances is the plague described in so masterly a manner by Thucydides, which, in the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 s.c.), ravaged Athens, then besieged by the Spartans. A large number of the inhabitants of Attica had fled into the city. Fear, anxiety, want or poor provision and the corruption of the air caused by the crowded state of the population, produced and propagated the disease in the city. Death gen erally ensued on the seventh or ninth day. This epidemic does not seem to have been the real Oriental plague, however, any more than that which prevailed in Jerusalem (72 A.D.) when it was besieged by the Romans, as de scribed by Josephus. In Rome the plague ex isted (77 A.D.) in the reign of Vespasian; of Marcus Aurelius (170), when it raged over almost all Europe and Asia (but this was probably not the real plague) ; of G?mmodus (in 189) ; and particularly of Gallienus (in 262), when 5,000 persons are said to have died daily in Rome. In Constantinople, in the reign of Justinian (in 544), it raged so violently that 1,000 grave-diggers are said to have been in sufficient for the interment of the dead. This terrible plague continued its ravages for 50 years with but short intervals. In 565 it ap peared under the name of pestis inguinario in Trives; in 588 in Marseilles. From the de
scriptions of this visitation given by contem porary writers it was evidently the true Orien tal plague, and it had spread over Egypt before reaching Europe. Great mortality from it re sulted not only in Constantinople but also in Italy, Gaul and other countries, including north ern Africa.
In the 7th century the plague or other seri ous epidemic raged in Saxony; in 823 it pre vailed all over Germany, and from 875 to 877 was particularly malignant in Saxony and Mis nia, as was also the case in 964. In the 11th century it broke out in Germany at least six times, mostly after or during a famine, and raged with so much violence that it was be lieved that all mankind was doomed to be swept away by it. This unfortunate belief prevented the taking of effectual means to check it, and apathy in suffering was considered as an act of piety. In some cases, however, the Jews, were suspected of having poisoned the wells, as in a time not very remote the Hungarian peasantry suspected the nobility when the chol era swept away so many of the poorer classes. In the 12th century the plague prevailed in Ger many above 25 years. In the 13th century it was brought into Europe by the Crusaders. At the middle of the 14th century it traversed all Europe, and was then called the Black Death. The black death was carried to Europe from the East, having been transmitted, it is said, from Tartary, and ultimately from China, to the Crimea, whence it was carried to Italy by certain Genoese. It also reached Egypt and thence northern Africa. In England it broke out first in the west in 1348, and then spread over the rest of the country, including Ireland and Scotland, its ravages being severest in the towns. After causing an immense number of deaths it reappeared in. 1361 and 1369. The black death was the most serious epidemic ever known to have afflicted Europe. In England the proportion of deaths amounted to a third, or even a half, of the whole population. Some towns lost almost all their inhabitants; in Ox ford two-thirds of those connected with the educational institutions perished; in London the deaths amounted to 100,000, in Norwich to 60,000. The mortality was naturally greatest among the lower orders; while the clergy and religious orders suffered to an equal or greater extent, no doubt from their efforts on behalf of their suffering brethren. Of those attacked some died almost immediately, others within 12 hours, almost all succumbed within three days. It appears to have been at its height in the sum mer of 1349. The consequences left behind were great and fat-reaching. One was that la borers were so scarce that wages went up to double their former rate, thus leading to the passing of acts intending to regulate them, which had little result except to stir up ill-feel ing, ultimately culminating in Wat Tyler's in surrection. Another consequence was the breaking up of many estates into farms let on lease, owing to the scarcity of hired labor by which they could be cultivated under their own ers' management. A great accession to the land owned by the Church was another conse quence of the black death, which long remained a landmark in English social history. Since that time the plague has never raged with so much violence.