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‘O happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe,  and will look upon our testimony as a fable.’ Francesco Petrarch


Somewhere near the estuary of the Don,

with its mudflats and meanders, north

of the Sea of Azov, and somewhere

near the Volga Delta, with its pelicans

and flamingos, north of the Caspian,

on the steppe lands are black rats and fleas

and yersinia pestis. The rats

like human warmth, and the fleas can leap.


The Mongol khanate of the Golden Horde,

recently converted to Islam,

had closed the Silk Road for religious reasons.

Italian merchants in Kaffa, Crimea,

notwithstanding held their fort. The Mongols

besieged the Christians and, withered by the plague,

so it is said, threw the corpses of their dead

over the ramparts. The merchants decamped.


The bacterium was borne along trade routes –

in holds of ships and folds of clothing.

In eight years the Black Death killed fifty million.

There was collateral damage – in Strasburg

and all of Rhineland the burning of Jews.

It probably brought about the end

of the feudal system, and undermined

the Pope’s domination, making the world

free for capital, enterprise and invention –

like mariners’ astrolabes, matchlock guns,

the Atlantic Slave Trade.




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • John Huddart
    June 2, 2020

    Informative and stunningly appropriate – bringing our ignorance and helplessness into focus at a time of crisis.

  • da-AL
    June 26, 2020

    I’m much impressed with your writing — would you be so kind as to guest blog post for my site? if you’re so inclined, here’s a link to general guidelines:

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