Svartedauen i Norge: Ankomst, spredning, dødelighet

Ole Jørgen Benedictow


The Black Deathââ¬â¢s history in Norway was first thoroughly discussed in my doctoral thesis of 1993, and then again in a new, revised and enlarged version in my general Norwegian plague history of 2002. In both cases, I argue for the new view that the Black Death first reached Oslo from south-eastern England in the autumn of 1348, but that the incipient epidemic was suppressed by cold winter weather and re-emerged in early spring around mid-April in a seasonal pattern typical of bubonic plague. Then it started spreading radially out of the town along the main roads from where it fanned out into the countryside. A new independent introduction in Bergen caused an outbreak in the second half of August from where the Black Death spread to western Norway, Trondheim and Trøndelag, while Stavanger, the south-western and southern regions were contaminated by contagion that had originated in Oslo. Earlier, it was generally assumed that the Black Death was introduced only in Bergen as stated in Icelandic Annals, that it spread over Norway from Bergen, and that it all took place in the subsequent part of 1349. For epidemiological reasons alone, this is an untenable account of the arrival and spread of the disease, implying impossible spread rates.
ââ¬âââ¬âââ¬âMy view on the Black Death was first challenged by H. Bjørkvik in a work of popular history in 1996 where he defended the earlier view that the Black Death was introduced only in Bergen, but argued for the new view that the epidemic spread in Ãstlandet in the winter and summer of 1350. In a paper by B. Lindanger published in 2004, this view was argued again and enlarged upon, now in relation to my new account in my Norwegian plague history. This paper is in focus of my discussion here. My crucial line of argument is based on the identification of the sources that can determine the year of the Black Death and indicate the spatio-temporal pattern of spread, namely (1) the Icelandic Lawmanââ¬â¢s Annal which relates in considerable detail about the Black Deathââ¬â¢s outbreak in Bergen and dates the whole epidemic in Norway to 1349, including the death of the bishop of Hamar in central Ãstlandet; (2) sources relating to the death of the bishop of Hamar in the Black Death and the institution of a new bishop, showing that the bishop must have died around 1 September 1349, which implies that the town was contaminated in early July; (3) King Magnusââ¬â¢ ââ¬Åopen letterââ¬Â to populations of Swedish dioceses from around 25 September 1349 about the resolutions made by the Council of the Realm in Lödöse (ââ¬ÅGothenburgââ¬Â) in order to protect Sweden from invasion by the Black Death that was raging ââ¬Åall overââ¬Â Norway and in Halland and was ââ¬Åon its way hitherââ¬Â, implying a concomitant nationwide epidemic in Norway and a time of the royal summons to the meeting about three weeks earlier. All three sources prove independently that the Black Death raged in central Ãstlandet in the autumn of 1349, the third also that it was approaching the borders of Sweden in early September. àà àThe sources show that in 1350 a broad political and social process of normalization was going on which demonstrably had begun in Oslo not later than November 1349. The fact that the Black Death raged in central and eastern parts of Ãstlandet around 1 September implies a time horizon of the epidemic to the effect that the spread out of Oslo started about mid-April. Since no ship from England could have arrived with the contagion six weeks earlier and contaminated the town, the contagion must have been introduced in the preceding autumn.
ââ¬âââ¬âââ¬âEstimates of maximum pre-plague population size are based on multiplication of number of tenancies and free holdings in operation before the Black Death with a household multiplier, making additions of about five per cent for those who lived outside peasant society. Lindanger argues on the basis of information of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that my household multiplier of 4.5 is too small and should be six persons. I present three independent ways of estimating average household size on the basis of medieval sources which all imply an average of 4.5 persons and population size of 300,000/350,000 persons dependent on size of territory. On the basis of mortality rates known from other parts of Europe, this allows to suggest that around 200,000 persons succumbed in the Black Death in Norway.
ââ¬âââ¬âââ¬âThe question of household size and population size is discussed more comprehensively in the Appendix: ââ¬ÅOn the average size of family, household, farmstead population and population size in Norway c. 1300-1670.ââ¬Â



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