World History 1 247 - 16 Climate Change and Plague in the Fourteenth Century

An image of a painting is shown. The perimeter of the paining is blue, orange and white décor – x’s, triangles, and “E” shapes in various positions. The corners are brown squares with decorative “x” shapes inside. The image is set on a mustard yellow background with tufts of greenish-brown grasses seen along the bottom half. At the left back, four men with brown and blond curly hair dressed in long sleeved shirts in yellow, red, pink and faded blue carry small coffins in varying shades of brown and white toward the right – three carry them on their back and one holds it in front of his chest. One wears a pointy cap and two have beards. Two other coffins are seen in the air behind them. In the left forefront, four people are walking two by two, carrying a coffin between them. They wear blue, yellow and red long shirts, pink, blue, and yellow stockings and black shoes. The two seen in the front carry a short, thin object in their hands. The two in front have cloths over their heads while the two in back have short blond and black hair and look down. In the middle forefront of the image, a person wearing a blue long sleeved shirt and orange cloth over their shoulders stands inside a hole in the ground holding a small off white shovel with a brown handle. They have a blue hat on their head and a pained expression on their face. Behind them two people stand holding a long thin object wrapped in white cloth between them. The person on the left wears a large white hooded cape over their head and looks down while the person on the right has wavy red hair, looks down and wears a beige cape over their shoulders. In the right back of the image, two people are seen digging a hole in the ground with a shovel and pickaxe. The person on the left has one leg in the hole and the other on the ground and wears a pink hooded short cape and blue clothing. The one on the right wears an orange long shirt with an off white short cape over his shoulders. He has red curly hair and a beard. In the right bottom forefront, two people are seen lowering a coffin into a hole in the ground. The person on the left wears a long pink shirt with an orange hooded short cape on their shoulders and looks down sadly. The person on the right wears a short light orange shirt over red stockings and black shoes with a short black hooded cape over their head and shoulders. He appears to be smiling. Black, brown, and white rectangle objects are strewn on the ground in various places in the image.
Figure 16.1 Thanks to modern scientific tools, the remains of fourteenth-century bubonic plague victims, such as those being buried in this image, have yielded much insight into the course and impact of historical pandemics, and their short- and long-term consequences on human society. This painting is a miniature from a manuscript of the mid-fourteenth century. (credit: modification of work “Gilles li Muisis, Antiquitates Flandriae (Tractatus quartus)” by Belgian Art Links and Tools/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Climate change, global pandemics, and political upheaval may seem more characteristic of the modern era than of the premodern world, but the first decades of the 1300s did in fact witness a rapid succession of such crises, prompting historian Barbara Tuchman to dub the period “the calamitous fourteenth century” in her book A Distant Mirror. From the ravages of the so-called Little Ice Age to the bubonic plague (Figure 16.1) and the rapid decline of the once-mighty Mongol Empire, the 1300s were marked by an array of extraordinary challenges that not only radically altered the world’s demographic and political landscape but also showcased the strength and vigor of human resilience.

Although any one of these catastrophes might have crushed the societies upon which they descended, in each case, people adapted, rebounded, and rebuilt. Due to their remarkable grit, the fourteenth century offers an unprecedented opportunity for historians to understand critical facets of the human experience, such as the impact of environmental change, infectious disease, and the ravages of military conflict.

A timeline with events from this chapter is shown. 1250 CE: Mamluk Empire begins; an image of a tall, ornately decorated golden tower atop a gray elephant is seen with a rider on the head.  1271-1368 CE: Mongol Yuan dynasty rules China. 1279 CE: Kublai Khan defeats Song dynasty; an image of a large man with a round face, small eyes in a black and white hat, white robe, and long, black hair and beard is shown. 1309-1377 CE: Avignon papacy rules from France. 1315-1317 CE: The Great Famine; an image of a skeleton sitting atop a winged lion wearing a crown holding a large brown stick is shown with a person in a fire below. 1340s-1350s CE: Black Death sweeps Europe; an image of a room of sick people lying in beds with others standing over them. 1351-1368: Red Turban movement resists Mongol rule of China; 1358 CE: Jacquerie peasants revolt in France. 1368 CE: Zhu Yuanzhang founds the Ming dynasty; an image of a large man with a small head in a black cap and long off-white robes with gold decals all over is shown.
Figure 16.2 (credit "1250": modification of work “"The Elephant Clock", Folio from a Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by al-Jazari” by Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956/Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain; credit "1279": modification of work "Yuan Emperor Album Khubilai Portrait" by National Palace Museum/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; credit "1315–1317": modification of work “Death (“Mors”) sits astride a lion whose long tail ends in a ball of flame (Hell). Famine (“Fames”) points to her hungry mouth” by “Mariule”/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; credit "1340s–1350s": modification of work "Gilles li Muisis, Antiquitates Flandriae (Tractatus quartus)” by Belgian Art Links and Tools/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; credit "1368": modification of work “Official court painting of the Hongwu Emperor” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax