Monday, June 14, 2021


I am reading and listening about the plagues that changed history - the Plagues of Galen (Antonine) and of Cyprian, where Christianity went from a footnote of a religion to the dominant force of the Roman Empire quickly, largely on the strength of their care of each other, which had both practical and emotional effects; the Plague of Justinian, which prevented Rome from rising in the West again and its echoes over the next two centuries reduced the Eastern empire to Greece and Anatolia; I was told at school The Black Death in the mid-14th C, also echoing a few more times, killed a third of Europe; since then, the number keeps getting revised upwards, now at 60-70%, and I spoke with one person who winced and said "It might have been 80%).  I was similarly told at school that "some" Indians had died of Old World diseases during the first two centuries of colonisation, but soon read that some radicals thought it was "almost a third, though larger in some places."  The estimate for the percentage of New World Natives who died of disease now stands at 90-95%. That's how we really conquered the New World.

In some ways our barely-noticeable plague has had a greater economic impact because our economies are so complex and so wealthy that knocking off the top level of the wall (or house of cards) brings a lot down.  On the other hand, they went from everyone going hungry a few months every year to many of the survivors of disease starving to death.  That would be smaller in dollar terms, but pretty clearly a greater economic disruption. I don't think anyone starved here. No four-year-olds were suddenly left wandering the roads looking for food.

1 comment:

Mike Guenther said...

That was an interesting rabbit hole to go down.

Radical scholars insinuate that small pox brought in by European colonization is to blame for the large decline in the "Native American" population and on the eastern seaboard, that's probably true. I don't think it would be as high as 90% though.

The article notes that the flea parasite responsible for the Black Death also lived in rodents in the western part of North America. Have there been any studies on indian remains from that area to see if maybe it caused part of the disappearance of their populations? Or would a small pox outbreak in the south west have been caused by Spanish explorers.