The Black Death was a plague pandemic that devastated Europe in the 14th century, killing an estimated one-third of the population. The disease, carried by fleas on rodents, originated in central Asia and was carried to the Crimea by Mongol warriors and traders. The plague entered Europe via Italy, carried by rats on Genoese trading ships sailing from the Black Sea. The death toll was so high that it had significant consequences on medieval European society as a whole, with a shortage of farmers resulting in demands for an end to serfdom, a general questioning of authority and rebellions, and the entire abandonment of many towns and villages. One Florentine chronicler presents the following account of the plague:
“All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried. At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese.”
Today in Feeds’ Alternate History, we try to imagine a world where the greatest catastrophe of medieval Europe never happened.
By the 14th century, Europe was already overpopulated to the point that it was unsustainable. Much like medieval China, it probably would be suffering from famines and rampant starvation which might even have led to cannibalism. Even without the “Thanosian” decrease in population due to the Black Death, there would still be a considerable number of people dying. The increase in the population would have stagnated and the constant fear of death would always be there.
The largest chunk of the population that suffered death because of the plague was the peasants because of improper living conditions as compared to the higher strata of the society. The post-plague population consisted mostly of the nobles, leading to the decline of a feudal society, which was a system of land ownership and duties prevalent in the Middle Ages where all the land belonged to the king and he would have vassals who took care of the whereabouts of the land which was farmed by peasants much like the way it worked in GOT. Without the Black Plague, feudalism would persist and the class division in Europe would never end, similar to other parts of the world that stunted their development.
One of the most significant features of an overpopulated feudalist society is that labour is cheap and hence easily accessible. It does not provide much incentive for the society to work towards technological innovations to reduce the reliance on manual labour, which would have led to a Europe that would not be the powerhouse as we know it. The Industrial Revolution might not have taken place and the invention of weapons and ships that were monumental for the beginning of the colonization period might not have happened at all.
The plague was absolutely devastating to society, and the people had no idea what caused it. The suspects were the Jews who were not dying as much as the Christians mainly because of their ghettoization by the Church and their religious practices that promoted a hygienic lifestyle. The Christians assumed that the Jews were poisoning them and that lead to a medieval holocaust where tens of thousands of Jews were burnt alive. This was a major step towards antisemitism that caused havoc in the later centuries of the second millennium. In a world where the Black Plague never happened, antisemitism would not have been strong enough to give one man enough power to kill millions of Jews.
Analysing more, it’s undeniable that Europe was the epicenter for colonists. A world sans plague, colonies would have been non-existent, and I might be writing this article in Urdu or I might have written it on paper and sent it via a newsletter. The map of the world would have changed(literally), there might not have been any racism(think about it) besides countless other unimaginable possibilities.
The world as we see it today might not have been a better one had the Black Death not happened, or would it be?