In conjunction with the Corona pandemic, interest in studying health systems and their history increased, but most studies that examine the relationship of epidemics and plague to modern empires and the Mediterranean world are directed to European countries, and the social, political and economic effects of the plague on Arab and Muslim societies surrounding the sea have lacked study and in-depth research.
As the Ottoman Empire was a vast empire and for many centuries its lands included the coasts of the Mediterranean in southeastern Europe, the coast of the Levant and North Africa. .
In 1838, the Ottomans passed a quarantine law to confront the plague, and this represented a turning point as clinics were established for quarantine and procedures for disinfection, as well as monitoring the movement of individuals and goods through their lands, but this did not mean the elimination of the plague, because that era was characterized by increasing political and border tensions.
With the spread of the Corona pandemic on the countries on the shores of the Mediterranean these days, the importance of the study presented by the researcher Nokhet Farlik in her book “The Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience 1347-1600” highlights the importance of the Ottoman Empire in the context of the history of the global plague instead of Considering it a “isolated Islamic” country on the sidelines of the European plague center.
The author searched archive Ottoman records and many original and foreign sources, including records of European kingdoms, to try to paint a comprehensive picture of the plague in the Ottoman context (especially in the sixteenth century AD), and concluded that the Ottoman conquests and the expansion of their country had contributed to the transmission of the plague across the vast lands of the empire. .
Istanbul has become one of the centers of the plague, which the author considered a feature endemic to empires in general, and the book monitored the cycles of the outbreak of the epidemic in 3 time periods starting in the mid-fifteenth century until the beginning of the seventeenth century.
The study did not ignore the difference in the historical reality from the archive records and the royal orders that may not be applied in a literal way. On the other hand, literary works and court records provide alternative pictures to the actual reality of procedures, including a record of economic losses in the Anatolian Stock Exchange, for example.
The author, a professor of history at Rutgers University in America, explains the methods of “treatment” and methods of prevention that the authorities have taken and followed by the citizens. She examines the role of the state in organizing prayer processions, prayers and collective supplication to raise the epidemic, and studies methods of diagnosing plague and distinguishing between deaths resulting from it and those caused by other diseases in the country. Procedures, records and medical diagnosis.
The development of dealing with the plague epidemic contributed to the “Ottoman modernization”, as the organizations and administrative systems developed in a way that ensured a new form of government that included more stringent methods of monitoring and control over public bodies, squares and public squares, and health practices constituted more controls on the methods of building houses, examining water supplies, and developing a system. The Ottoman Health Administration since the mid-sixteenth century, according to the author.
Varlik notes that the Ottoman administration developed formal rules and procedures for burying the victims of the plague with the increase in the number of those infected with it, in order to combat infection and reduce the victims, and the Ottomans established special cemeteries outside the city walls.
Within the cities, the health system and preventive practices were developed, the procedures for cleaning, garbage removal and road paving expanded, and some craft workshops such as tanneries and slaughterhouses were moved outside the cities, and those affected by the plague obtained tax exemptions, especially during the era of regulations and Ottoman modernization in the nineteenth century, which witnessed waves of epidemic outbreaks. the killer.
Given the fact that the plague was a recurring problem in the Ottoman Sultanate over many centuries, the sanitary and preventive practices associated with it developed and included the construction of quarantine centers, especially during the nineteenth century, which defined the expansion of procedures for controlling the movement of individuals traveling and reserving them to check that they were free from the deadly disease, as well as disinfection. Goods and merchandise.
Cities, ports and towns located on ancient travel routes and paths were more likely to suffer from outbreaks of epidemics than other regions, and despite the decline of the disease in Western Europe from the eighteenth century onward, the epidemic continued in the Ottoman Empire until the late nineteenth century and thereafter as well.
History of the disease
Many historical sources chronicle the beginnings of the outbreak of the “Black Death” with the arrival of the plague to the Black Sea region from the east, coming with a Mongolian army who besieged the town of Kava in Crimea (Feodosia Ukrainian currently occupied by Russia) in the mid-fourteenth century, and the Mongolian soldiers began to die due to the epidemic, and slandered some Corpses catapult over the city walls.
The besieged population was infected with the infectious disease that travelers carried with them through trade ships to the ports of Italy and Constantinople Byzantium, and the epidemic spread across the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean to Aleppo, the Syrian coast and Egyptian Alexandria to other cities in the Middle East, and to Europe as well, killing nearly a third of its population.
Varlik identified 3 main phases of the outbreak of the epidemic in the Ottoman lands: the first that lasted from 1453 to 1517, the second from 1517 to 1570, and the third from 1570 until the beginning of the seventeenth century in 1600, and each of these three stages is discussed precisely, the spread and nature of the plague, and how it affected Population, state, etc.
The effects of the plague left great changes in the Ottoman world, but the tremendous turmoil was the share of Europe, whose social structure has changed irreversibly, and known widespread persecution of minorities such as foreigners, Jews, beggars and lepers, and conspiracy theories about the causes of plague spread, and the effects included increasing pessimistic tendencies in art and literature.
Nevertheless, the great human losses caused by the plague brought positive results to the surviving peasants in Europe, and opened the way for a social movement that drove a nail into the coffin of the feudal system, after the land became abundant and wages were high, and social advancement became possible for many farmers.
Orientalism and epidemiology
In the interdisciplinary collective book that Farlik also edited, and issued by “IRC Humanities” publications, the author notes the emergence of what she called “epidemiological orientalism”.
In an intertwining space between the disciplines of the history of epidemics, the history of public health, environmental history and studies of Orientalism, the book discusses the emergence of the “Eastern Plague” – a term used in the post-Enlightenment period in Europe – to refer to epidemics and their spread in the lands of the vast Ottoman Empire, and on the eastern and northern coasts of the Mediterranean. Eastern and Southern.
Starting in the eighteenth century, when the memory of the plague began to fade into the short European memory, after a third of the old continent’s population had died with the deadly epidemic, the East became associated in the European imagination with the image of the epidemic and the plague due to the continuing outbreak of the epidemic.
Farlik’s study discusses the Ottoman Empire’s association with European imaginations about the disease scene in the Ottoman countries, which exacerbated European fears of the Ottoman world. The author traced the consequences of this vision in writing the modern history that was affected by this “epidemiological orientalism”, and how the East came to be seen as the site of disease and its transformation into “the last patient” for Europe, which ignored its painful history with disease.
In the same book, an academic in the history department of Ohio University, Sam White, discusses evidence that the epidemic did not reach Europe from the Ottoman lands. The great circumstances that caused the transmission of the epidemic to the Ottoman lands in the late fifteenth century.