It was 1347. Europe had cities. Teeming, filthy, crowded places. Horse dung paved the road, and open sewers spread their own brand of fragrance into the cold air.
Rats were nothing new. But them coming out of the woodwork of their mysterious hiding places by the dozen, wandering on the open road, swaying helplessly, and refusing to run because they can’t, before dying and lying scattered everywhere, was new.
It was the start of the black death.
Epidemics were not new. Thousands of outbreaks of small pox, cholera, measles, polio, and myriad others, many we now don’t know what, blew through human civilizations many a time in recorded history.
But the Plague of Justinian, that first killed the Romans in the 7th and 8th century ACE, recurred in European history, and the most famous one was the black death of 1347 that lasted almost a decade.
It was caused by a bacterium, called yersinia pestis, and carried by the rat flea. For reasons unknown, now and then, it jumps the species barrier.
And spares no one. It is a painful death. 50 to 100 million died horribly. Fifty percent of the population perished in most places. Dead bodies lay rotting in the streets, and the stench pervaded the towns. Orphans roamed, eyes blank, and begged for food. Nobody gave them anything, as most had nothing.
The most interesting thing was the massacre of the Jews.
Jewish ghettos dotted European towns. And they were hated.
Word spread that it was the Jews that were poisoning the wells, and this caused the disease.
Mobs began beating Jews to death. In one incident, a thousand innocent humans of Jewish descent were burned alive. I mean, they were alive before they were burnt to death.
This was way before Whatsapp, but we can imagine semi official handles of the local power centers gently whirring into action, as they were helpless against the unseen enemy.
True stories of the past.
But they may not teach us much.