Worlds Brought Down, 1258-1453
Michael Wood, “The Story of England: The Great Famine and the Black Death” (58:47 min.; famine: 20:29-30:29; plague: 39:29-47:00):
Dies irae (Day of Wrath), 13th cent. (3:31 min.):
Deus miserere (God Have Mercy), Old Hispanic prayers and responses sung before the funeral service (4:14 min.):
Corvus Corax, “Saltatio mortis” (Totentanz, or Dance of Death, 3:53 min.):
Cultures, pp. 383-394 (The plague; the Mongol takeover; in the wake of the Mongols)
The Plague (map):
The plague struck Anatolia and the eastern shores of the Black Sea by 1347, and later that year was carried to Europe by Genoese ships coming from Caffa in the Crimean peninsula to Messina at the toe of Italy. It spread throughout the Near East, N. Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe and within 3 years had killed at least one-third of the population, perhaps 50 million people.
Some European responses to the Black Death:
- Fear that the epidemic was caused by the stars or by divine wrath
- Massacres of Jews (who were initially accused of poisoning wells to cause the pestilence)
- Processions of flagellants
- Mass burials (part of the plague cemetery near the Tower of London, excavated in the 1980s)
- Macabre art (click here to see part of a late 15th-century painting of the “Dance of Death” from Tallinn, Estonia, and another from Lübeck, Germany)
- Struggling to carry on with normal administration (click here to see death entries from the manorial court roll of Norton, co. Hertfordshire, 1348-9)
Some effects of the Black Death in Europe:
- Death of one-third to one-half of the population in 1347-49
- Recurring episodes of pestilence until 18th cent.; population in decline or stagnant until 16th cent. (click for grafitti from Ashwell church, Herts., 1361)
- Rise in real wages and fall in land and food prices (until 16th cent.)
- Changes in farming patterns on large estates, e.g., renting out of demesne, or conversion from arable to pastoral farming
- Gradual eradication of serfdom (except in Eastern Europe)
- Development of rural industries (espcially textile production)
- Rise in peasant and artisanal standard of living (until 16th cent.)
- Expansion of ecclesiastical property ownership
- Peasant and artisanal revolts (e.g., French Jacquerie, 1358; Florentine Ciompi Rebellion, 1378; and English Peasants’ Revolt, 1381)
- Rise of lay participation in civic and religious leadership
- Attempts to use law or statute to prohibit rise of wages and luxurious dress or food to non-elites
The Mongol Takeover:
Until the late 1000s the Islamic world had been led by the Arabs and the Persians. From the late 1000s, it was dominated by two groups of nomadic Asian tribes: the Turks and the Mongols.
In 1071 the Seljuk Turks smashed a Byzantine army at the battle of Manzikert and seized most of Anatolia. The Abbasids turned to the Turks as military allies, and embraced elements of Turkish culture, as they had of Persian culture; the Abbasid capital of Baghdad remained a center of learning and artistic culture until its violent conquest and destruction by the Mongols in 1258.
The Mongols’ spectacular conquests under Genghis Khan (“Universal Ruler,” d. 1227) and his sons and grandsons included China, Western Asia, and Eastern Europe as far west as Kiev by 1279. The Mongol conquests included the wholesale destruction of villages, towns, and cities, and the massacres of tens of millions of people, but their vast empire began to break up into pieces in the later 1200s. The two biggest pieces were the Khanate of the Golden Horde, which controlled the S. Russian steppe, and the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), China’s first foreign-ruled dynasty, founded by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan (d. 1294). The Mongols were interested in trade, and willing to deal with Westerners, and it was during the early Yuan dynasty that the first Westerners, including missionaries, were allowed to visit China.
In the Wake of the Mongols:
In the West, the two centuries from the 1250s to the 1450s saw the Mongol conquest of the Seljuk empire and its subsequent fragmentation into small states, followed by the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Beginning c. 1300, the Ottomans conquered Anatolia and the Balkans, seizing the remaining territory of the Byzantines, including Constantinople in 1453. Egypt and the E. end of the Mediterranean were ruled from 1250 to 1517 by the Mamluk sultanate.
Islam, Empire of Faith, part 3: The Ottomans (PBS, 52:57 min.):
Janina Ramirez, The Search for the Lost Manuscript of Julian of Norwich [Revelations of Divine Love, 1373] (BBC, 59:09 min.; for Julian’s life and visions, see 14:00-27:00 min.):
Seljuk Architecture in Konya (3:06 min.):
Cultures, pp. 394-405 (Persia under the Il-Khans; a new center for Islam; the Ottoman Turks)
Sources, pp. 194-202 (Boccaccio, “The Great Plague;” Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love; Froissart, “On Flagellants;” Jakob Twinger, Chronicle)
This week’s paper topic is:
WEEK 14: Between 1347 and 1350, “the pestilence” (now identified as bubonic plague) killed between one-third and one-half of the population of Europe, and the population did not begin to rise again until after 1500. Drawing on this week’s lectures and on the assigned readings in both textbooks, identify two major ways in which late medieval Europe was shaped by the plague, and two major ways in which it was not shaped by the plague. Support your arguments with concrete information, not vague generalities.
Because this week’s readings and lectures concerning Europe build on material introduced in Week 13, you may include material from the Week 13 readings, lectures, and lecture outlines as well as (not instead of) from Week 14 in writing this week’s paper.
Persia under the Il-Khans (1260-1335):
When the Mongol Empire began to break up in 1260, one of the four large khanates into which it was divided was the Il-Khanate of Persia, ruled by a grandson of Genghis Khan and his Mongol successors for 75 years.
The nomadic Mongols were shamanistic, but many — influenced by the Seljuk Turks — converted to Islam. Among them was Ghazan (r. 1295-1304), the emir of Il-Khan Persia (modern Iran and Iraq), who made Islam the state religion (and changed his name to Mahmud Ghazan).
Timur the Lame (Tamerlane, r. 1370-1405), another Turco-Mongol warlord, terrorized and conquered a huge empire from Delhi to the Black Sea, including Iran and Iraq, and founded a dynasty that ruled Persia and Central Asia until 1507.
A new center for Islam – The Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517):
The Turkish-led Mamluk Sultanate, which stretched from Libya to Syria, became the stronghold of Western Islamic civilization from 1250 until its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Agriculture (main crops: grain, sugar, and cotton) was the primary source of revenue. Like the Byzantines and the Ayyubids, the Mamluks granted land to officers and soldiers in return for military service. Lords had to pay half their revenues to the sultan. The sultan and ruling elite also derived large revenues from the spice trade, which avoided the Mongols by shipping spices to Egypt via the Red Sea.
The Ottoman Empire (map):
The break-up of the Seljuk, and Mongol empires enabled a new band of Turkish tribes, under their leader Osman (r. 1281-1324), to begin to build an empire of their own, and to expand it over the next 300 years; it lasted until 1922. The Ottomans embraced Sufism, which antagonized the anti-Sufi Mamluks and Il-Khans; Turkish displaced Arabic and Persian as the language of diplomacy in the Muslim world; and the Ottomans used cannon made in Hungary to take Constantinople – a goal that had eluded earlier Muslim regimes for more than 700 years.
Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), Decameron: “The Great Plague”: Describes in wrenching detail the Black Death in Florence in 1348 – the physical symptoms of the sick, the horrific mortality, the dilemma over how to bury the dead, and the attempts to understand the plague’s causes, and how to respond and survive.
Julian of Norwich (1342-c. 1416), Revelations of Divine Love: Julian was an English laywoman who, while on the point of death, received mystical visions of the suffering of Jesus; of God’s love for all of Creation; of the material world reduced to the size of a hazelnut; and of the wisdom and soul of the Virgin Mary. (Julian subsequently became an anchorite in a small cell attached to her parish church of St. Julian in Norwich, learned to read and write, and wrote this volume, in English.)
Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c. 1405), Chronicle: “On Flagellants”: Froissart provides a detailed description of the bands of flagellants who tried to appease God during the Black Death by flogging themselves in public. The pope (in Avignon) forbade the flagellants to enter France; the Jews feared their appearance, because they believed that their arrival would lead to the massacre and exile of the Jews.
Jakob Twinger (1348-1420), Chronicle (c. 1382-1420): Twinger was from a small village near Strasbourg. He was ordained a priest in 1382, and began to write his chronicle; in 1395 he became a canon of Strasbourg Cathedral, and used its archives in continuing his chronicle. In this excerpt, Twinger describes the terror and mortality of the Black Death in Avignon, where the pope canceled all events at his court and quarantined himself in his private apartments with fires burning constantly to purify the air. In Strasbourg, 16,000 died in 1349-50. Everywhere, people blamed the Jews for causing the pestilence, and in towns from the Mediterranean to Germany, the Jews were rounded up and burned, except for Avignon, where the pope protected the local Jews. Jews who fled to the countryside were caught and killed by local peasants. In Strasbourg, the entire Jewish community of 2000 was burned in their own cemetery. The debts owed to Jews were canceled and all their property was confiscated. Twinger says that if the Jews had been poor, and if the nobles had not been in debt to them, they would not have been killed. At Strasbourg, the town officials declared that no Jew would be allowed to enter the city for 100 years, but in 1368 they were re-admitted.