Things could always be worse

Saturday, Jan 23, 2010

Even the worst government democide of ~76 million Chinese in the 20th century was small compared to the Black Death of the 14th century. The Black Death killed an estimated 75 million people [wellcome.ac.uk] which was about 16% of the entire world population [census.gov], and about 33% of the European population:

The plague came to Europe in the fall of 1347. By 1350 it had largely passed out of western Europe. In the space of two years, one out of every three people was dead. Nothing like that has happened before or since.

These general numbers disguise the uneven nature of the epidemic. Some areas suffered little, others suffered far more. Here are some examples.

Between 45% and 75% of Florence died in a single year. One-third died in the first six months. Its entire economic system collapsed for a time.

In Venice, which kept excellent records, 60% died over the course of 18 months: five hundred to six hundred a day at the height.

Certain professions suffered higher mortality, especially those whose duties brought them into contact with the sick--doctors and clergy. In Montpellier, only seven of 140 Dominican friars survived. In Perpignan, only one of nine physicians survived, and two of eighteen barber-surgeons.

The Black Death, History of Western Civilization, Dr. Skip Knox, Boise State University, http://www.boisestate.edu/courses/westciv/plague/15.shtml.

Although percentage wise smaller than the Black Death, the 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 40 million people in just one year:

In just one year, it killed more than 40 million people. Conditions at the end of World War I may have contributed to the spread of the virus and hence the scale of this pandemic. It became known as the ‘Spanish flu’ because of the attention given to it by the Spanish press, which was not censored as much as the papers in other countries.

BigPicture on Epidemics, The Wellcome Trust is a charity whose mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health (a charity registered in England), September, 2007, http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@mshpublishinggroup/documents/web_document/wtd028110.pdf.

Even after the worst devastations of this form, the ones who survive pick up the pieces and life continues.