Plague and Methodology
We live in an age of steadily growing population and urban sprawl, with industrial growth continually encroaching on the few untouched pockets of our ecosystem, so it is hard for us to imagine our distant ancestors' fear of nature as an encroaching predator. It is harder still for us to conceive of the terror and shock they experienced as urban centers shrank and cultivated fields slowly reverted to their natural states. Yet this was the predominant mood that gripped the survivors of the Black Death. Their numbers had been devastated by a mysterious and horrifying disease that had come from “the East” and revisited generation after generation in waves of epidemics. Bewildered communities watched in dismay as nature took the place of humanity's civilized infrastructure. They drew together in fear as small hamlets disappeared from the map and villages dwindled to ghosts of their former selves. People fled in panic to the largest cities, only to find that the former epicenters of civilization were themselves shrinking, as once-crowded neighborhoods and bustling marketplaces fell into decay. Others held out in their familiar rural settings, helplessly trying to confront the powerful forces of nature as their small numbers grew too few to resist the oncoming wave of indigenous plants and forests that their ancestors had once cleared. The natural environment, aided by a small rod-shaped bacterium, had returned with a vengeance to reclaim its former dominance.
A ship arrived in Alexandria. Aboard it were thirty-two merchants and a
total of three hundred people-among them traders and slaves. Nearly all
of them had died. There was no one alive on the ship, save four of the trad-
ers, one slave, and about forty sailors. These [forty-five] survivors [soon]
died in Alexandria.1