From The Memsahib: Lessons Learned from The Black Death

The following are some interesting quotes that I found when doing some of genealogy research. (One of my ancestors was a Norseman who died of the plague in Avignon in 1349.)

In Parma, Italy, the poet Petrarch wrote to his brother:
When has any such thing been even heard or seen; in what annals has it ever been read that houses were left vacant, cities deserted, the country neglected, the fields too small for the dead and a fearful and universal solitude over the whole earth?… Oh happy people of the future, who have not known these miseries and perchance will class our testimony with the fables.

An account by Marchionne, written from Florence:

Such was the terror this caused that seeing it take hold in a household, as soon as it started, nobody remained: everybody abandoned the dwelling in fear, and fled to another; some fled into the city and others into the countryside. No doctors were to be found, because they were dying like everybody else… Sons abandoned fathers, husbands wives, wives husbands, one brother the other, one sister the other.

… The foodstuffs suitable for the sick, cakes and sugar, reached outrageous prices. A pound of sugar was sold at between three and eight florins, and the same went for other confectionery. Chickens and other poultry were unbelievably expensive, and eggs were between 12 and 24 denari each: you were lucky to find three in a day, even searching through the whole city. Wax was unbelievable: a pound of wax rose to more than a florin, … The shroud-cloth apparel which used to cost… three florins, rose in price to thirty florins… No industry was busy in Florence; all the workshops were locked up, all the inns were closed, only chemists and churches were open. .. Those who especially profited from the plague were the chemists, the doctors, the poulterers, the undertakers… And those who made the most were these herb sellers. Woollen merchants and retailers when they came across cloth could sell it for whatever price they asked. Once the plague had finished, anybody who could get hold of whatsoever kind of cloth, or found the raw materials to make it, became rich. (Adapted from: George Deaux, The Black Death 1347. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1969.)

The plague had large scale social and economic effects… People abandoned their friends and family, fled cities, and shut themselves off from the world. Funeral rites became perfunctory or stopped altogether, and work ceased being done. …The economy underwent abrupt and extreme inflation. Since it was so difficult (and dangerous) to procure goods through trade and to produce them, the prices of both goods produced locally and those imported from afar skyrocketed. Because of illness and death workers became exceedingly scarce, so even peasants felt the effects of the new rise in wages. (Courie, Leonard W. The Black Death and Peasant’s Revolt. New York: Wayland Publishers, 1972; Strayer, Joseph R., ed. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Vol. 2. pp. 257-267.)

If this isn’t an argument for food storage in the event of a flu pandemic, I don’t know what is! Because trade had shut down, the price of food and necessities sold for exorbitant prices if they could be found at all. Of course we saw some of this during hurricane Katrina, but this was just a localized event. Imagine truckers refusing to drive to pandemic stricken cities. Imagine store managers refusing to open their stores.