Thoughts on the plague. I find myself thinking about the plague lately.
Back many years ago I took a graduate class on Medieval Europe. I wrote a paper on what caused the Dark Ages. I’d grown up being told various idea such as Roman lead pipes caused Rome to fall, the growth of Barbarians, the decadence and corruption of Rome were all blamed as culprits. I rejected that thinking and put out my own theory. The cause of the Dark Ages was the plague, the Black Death.
It was everywhere and killed people in enormous numbers. I believe it also set certain events into play. It greatly weekend the Roman Empire. The Emperor Constantine even caught it, although he was one of the few who survived. The thing is, about half of the population of Europe died in a a very short time. The collective memory of a society cannot recover from that kind of loss. It was not uncommon for a forth to even the entire population of a village to die in just a few weeks–it was that deadly. When the Romans withdrew from Britania, for example, within just a little over a generation the local folks did not know where the roads and aqueducts they were using came from. Roman sculptures and tapestries remained, yet people started thinking they were built by a race of giants–with little memory of the Empire that had once ruled the land.
Alas, my professor was not thrilled with my theory even though I felt I’d supported my argument. Since then I’ve at least convinced myself the Roman Empire, and the plague are both directly tied in to demise of civilization. In just a few short years a populace that was mostly literate, where medical care was so advanced they had surgeons and anaesthesiologists, clean running water and a food distribution system descended into anarchy with nothing more than loose local government and an illiterate population where only monks and priests could read and write. All because of a disease carried by rats.