A Pale Horse: The Plague of 1512 (Revision)

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by corourke, Apr 21, 2008.

  1. corourke Member Donor

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    I am posting this thread to announce my intention to continue work on my TL, A Pale Horse.

    If you're not familiar with it, my TL posits a variant of the Bubonic Plague spreading from the steppes of Asia to Istanbul and beyond in the year 1512. Almost all of the deaths are centered around the Mediterranean region, but enough occur over the rest of Europe (and, importantly, the Volga basin region), to shake things up there as well.

    Immediately this leads to a collapse of Iberian colonialism, with the embryonic empires there unable to sustain their colonial ventures. The plague therefore gives the Native American states another hundred years of time before Europeans become interested in them again, although ironically most of those hundred years are spent languishing under their own plagues.

    I recently took a break from writing the TL because I was moving back to the United States and had some personal issues I needed to take care of. But I'm back in the saddle, and I'm taking this opportunity to revise some issues I had with some of the earlier posts I made in the TL. The first few posts will be very similar to the first version of the TL, but there have been changes made.

    Additionally, I now have a wordpress blog for the TL, hosted by the good people of interestingnonetheless.net. It can be found here:

    A Pale Horse: The Plague of 1512

    I'm going to be posting updates both in this thread, and on the blog, and I encourage comments and discussion in both places. Commentary is very important to me because it allows me to see perspectives I may not have considered in the first draft of the post. Having the wordpress blog will allow me to make edits to the entries after they have expired on this forum.

    Anyway, comments and discussion, as I have said, is welcomed and encouraged.
     
  2. corourke Member Donor

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    Introduction: The Origins of the Horse Plague

    Here's the revised introduction:

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    Introduction: The Origins of the Horse Plague

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    Perhaps if the storm had not been so severe, things would have been different. Perhaps if the storm had been gentler, the Zifa, a Crimean slave ship, would not have had to weather out the storm on the Caucasian coast for an extra few days. Perhaps, if the storm had not delayed them, the Slavemaster’s fatal decision to cut costs by packing less food for the slaves would not have mattered. Perhaps, if the slaves had been fed, they would not have risked certain death and taken over the ship. And, when the slave led ship, newly christened Adilya (Freedom), had put into port at Istanbul, they would have not been immediately captured by the Port Guard, and sent to prison. And there they would not have mingled with the hundreds of petty criminals coming in and out of the prison each day.

    Perhaps, if the slaves had been healthy, things would have been different. But the disease that spread from the slaves to the criminals of Istanbul, and from them to almost everyone in the city, was anything but that. Perhaps if it had been in any city but Istanbul, the outbreak, like a ship aflame far from port, would have burned itself out, exhausting all of its fuel and leaving only ashes behind. But Istanbul in 1512 was the most important city in Europe, and its ships, carrying treasures from the east, regularly called into the most important ports of Europe.


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    The Horse Plague, as it came to be known, spread rapidly from Istanbul to the many ports of Europe. It got its name from the grotesque facial swelling that was commonplace among the victims. The buboes, unlike those caused by the Black Death, tended to be concentrated on the head and necks of the victims, which was said to give them a horselike appearance. Today, the Horse Plague is regarded by most historians to have been a mutation of the Bubonic Plague.


    The Horse Plague, in terms of absolute numbers, was not nearly as destructive as the Black Plague that had preceded it. Though it spread over most of Europe, huge spaces in Eastern and Central Europe were spared. In other areas, the plague only infected large cities, leaving the people of the countryside relatively untouched.


    Close to two thirds of the plague’s victims were concentrated in three regions. Western Anatolia, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula were, for one reason or another, the most affected areas that the plague spread to. In Turkey, where the disease spread from, the great city of Istanbul experienced losses as high as 70% of the population. Other major cities of Western Anatolia experienced similar losses. These losses crippled the Ottoman Empire for a generation and would, in the years after the plague, create a population movement from the countryside to the vacated cities and from the Turkish lands in the Balkans to the depopulated cities of Anatolia.


    In Italy, the Horse Plague was again concentrated in the cities, where the fleas that bore the illness could easily spread. The great trading city of Venice was the first to be infected, due to its constant contact with trading ships from Istanbul and elsewhere. After Venice, the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were infected, and from there the rest of Italy. Almost two centuries earlier, Milan and managed to escape the worst of the Black Death, but this time its people were not so lucky. With the depopulation of Italy’s major cities, a power vacuum developed, one that France and Austria would compete to fill in the coming years.


    If the plague crippled one Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean, it found two to destroy in the West. The empires of Spain and Portugal, newly emerged from their Reconquista, were just stretching their legs as great Powers when the plague struck. Sevilla, Lisbon, and Madrid were the most affected, but all of the cities of the peninsula suffered. The destruction the plague wrought on Spain and Portugal diverted focus from their incipient empires and severely reduced their means to fund such ventures. Historians have called the Horse Plague the chief reason for the failure of Iberian colonialism in the Age of Discovery.
     
  3. Atom Future Human

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    It's excellent to see this back!
     
  4. corourke Member Donor

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    The Horse Plague in Italy

    Some changes in this one!



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    The Horse Plague in Italy


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    Proportion of the Population to die in the Horse Plague (1512-1517)


    The Horse Plague’s peculiar distribution of death rates is now commonly thought to have been determined by temperature. It is believed that the plague bacterium’s reproductive processes were slowed in colder climes, both because of the retarding effects of temperature on bacterial reproduction as well as the reduced numbers of carrier rats that existed in Northern Europe. Tree rings in the Balkan Peninsula indicate colder than normal temperatures during the plague years, while rings in the Volga Basin indicate a warm spell. Both of these figures are consistent with the death rates experienced in those areas - lower than one would expect in the Balkans, higher than one would expect in the Volga Basin.


    In Italy, the plague ultimately brought about a consolidation of French and Habsburg influence on the peninsula. The losses decimated the powerful cities of Italy, allowing the less affected northern powers to sweep southward and establish their influence over different parts of the peninsula in the years after the Plague.


    The great trading city of Venice experienced casualties only rivaled in a few other cities of Europe. The surviving merchants of the Most Serene Republic, emerging from the destruction of the Horse Plague, found few shoppers in the deserted markets of their once bustling city. The Doge, ruling over a court with half as many senators as before, found his once-overflowing coffers to be depleting. Faced with imperial weakness, the island territories of Crete and Cyprus began to exercise more and more autonomy, and Venetian authority in those areas gradually declined.


    The Duchies of Savoy and Milan faced similar problems. With the collapse of central authority, the larger cities took the helm of administration. Charles III of Savoy, unable to exert control over his erstwhile duchy, retired to Vienna with something of a vendetta against the newly independent princedoms and republics of Northern Italy. In Milan, much of the Sforza family died of the Plague, strengthening the already strong French claims to the Duchy’s former lands. Many of the newly founded republics began to gravitate toward a style of government similar to that of the Swiss cantons, ultimately leading in some cases to their absorption into that confederation.


    In Central Italy, the Plague caused a similar weakening of most cities. One notable exception, Pisa, managed to somehow escape the worst of the plague, and emerge from the plague with a death toll approaching barely 15% of its urban population, compared with close to 70% in cities like Venice and Milan. Over the coming years, Pisa would come to be one of the only Italian powers capable of defending itself against imperial interests from Northern Europe.
     
  5. corourke Member Donor

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    The Horse Plague in Iberia

    Some changes in this one as well. Pay attention to Christogrenada, they're going to play a very important role in the development of Iberia after the plague.

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    The Horse Plague in Iberia

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    Proportion of the Population to die in the Horse Plague (1512-1517)

    Though the Horse Plague killed fewer people in the Iberian Peninsula than it did in Italy, the effect on local governmental systems was in some ways much more destructive. According to some researchers, the Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula in 1513 were on the cusp of Empire. With the discovery of the New World two decades before, Castile-Aragon and Portugal seemed to be on the verge of domination of the newly discovered continents and their vast resources. In 1494, a treaty had even been signed between the two countries that would divide the entire globe between them. It is hard to imagine a New World without the linguistic and cultural diversity of our own, but, if the signers of the Treaty of Tordesillas had had their way, we might have seen a united, monolinguistic Nueva España, with the resources of two continents and untold millions of people supporting it.


    However, this was not to be. The final blow of the reconquista fell in 1492, when Castile-Aragon conquered Grenada, and unification with Portugal seemed imminent. When the Horse Plague descended upon the peninsula in 1513, it undid in a few years what centuries of Castilian Kings had worked toward. It brought about disunity.


    The death of Ferdinand II in 1513 is generally attributed to infection by the Horse Plague. Immortalized by the historian Juan de Bilbao in the late sixteenth century, the tale exhibits interesting similarities to the Decameron of Europe’s previous great plague, albeit with a more sordid ending. The King’s escape to a remote manor ended with his family and all of their servants dead. It has been speculated that the plague’s bacterium was carried to the manor by fleas from the King’s hunting dogs, though it is impossible to know for certain exactly what transmitted the disease.


    The death of Ferdinand II brought about a virtual disintegration of Castile-Aragon. Over the course of the plague years, control over the disparate provinces became more and more tenuous, with generals-turned-warlords exercising complete independence from the crown. Huge areas of farmland were abandoned: fields lay fallow, their farmers killed by plague or bandits.

    In Grenada, the most recent area incorporated into the crown, power was seized by a General, Juan Val. He was devoutly religious, and believed that the plague was God’s revenge upon a Christendom that was corrupted by Muslim and Jewish ideas. He called his Kingdom Christogrenada, Christ’s Grenada. From his throne, he expelled all the Muslims remaining in the province. He found support from all over the Mediterranean: his brand of Crusader Catholicism would appeal to many Christians who sought to understand the plague. A little more than a hundred years later, Christogrenadine forces commanded by Val’s son would reunify much of the peninsula and propel a theocratic Iberian Empire to the center of the world stage.


    The Muslims expelled by Juan Val did not have to travel far. In southern Andalucía, a wealthy Muslim merchant, Abdul Farraj, forcibly took control of portions of the province in the later part of 1515. His emirate brought the wrath of the crusader-minded Juan Val, and the two would fight several short wars into the 1540s. Andalucia’s Muslims had been mostly left alone when the province was conquered by Castile and Aragon in the fourteenth century, and many of them found the return to Muslim rule a desired change, albeit one that would turn out to be short-lived. Juan Val II’s crusaders would find the reconquest and recolonization of Murcia somewhat of a practice run for their adventures in North Africa.


    In addition to these losses, the Kingdoms of Leon and Aragon broke free of Castile. In the years that followed, they would attempt to reclaim their former separate identities. Navarre and a small kingdom of Asturias centered around Oviedo also emerged as independent entities. By 1520, the borders had stabilized and some semblance of peace had emerged from the chaos of the Horse Plague, though many areas were without effective government until well into the 1540s.​

     
  6. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

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    I too I'm glad to see your return. Nice maps, I must say. How different are these results from those of the Black Death?

    It seems to me they are much more selective (nothing wrong with that, your explanation seems plausible enough).

    ___________

    Wowzers! A new update just like that! Hmm, a theocratic Iberian Empire. Interesting in that even though it's still pretty parallel to OTL, it's also very different. Almost as if he's a Puritan Catholic!

    Any chance of a cheat sheet as to the differences with the first version. I can't seem to detect many yet.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2008
  7. corourke Member Donor

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    Yeah, essentially, the plague shows up in areas where I want to invoke substantial change in order to get the result I want. I mean, areas of warmer temperature and higher population density ;)

    I kinda based it off of this map.
     
  8. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

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    Let no mortal stand in the way of a good POD. :D
     
  9. corourke Member Donor

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    The Horse Plague’s Effects on the Fortunate Isles

    The Horse Plague’s Effects on the Fortunate Isles


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    The Fortunate Isles


    The isolation brought about by the plague years proved to be the crucible that made the Fortunate Isles what they are today. Untouched by the Plague, but without the normal influx of trade goods and news, luxuries and imperial oversight became a for the most part a thing of the past. The scarcity of luxury had another important effect, namely, the islands' disintegration into civil war. Because of the extremely low population of the islands, it was a peculiar sort of civil war, characterized more by raids and naval battles than by grandiose engagements between competing armies. Also because of the scarcity of manpower, it proved virtually impossible for any of the islands to exert effective control over another for any substantial period of time, and thus began the island chain's historic fragmentation.


    As the isolation and scarcity of resources became more acute, some of the more powerful islands began sending slave and resource collecting expeditions to the African mainland, which eventually culminated in the construction of Fort San Paulo, at the mouth of the Senegal, by the island of Tenerife. San Paulo existed as an important slaving outpost for the next 300 years. However, it was the remarkable discovery made by its inhabitants that gave it its historical significance. In 1516, an expedition up the River Gambiadiscovered the decaying Mali Kingdom. The Mali Kingdom was at this time locked in a life-and-death struggle with the rising power of the Songhai Empire. The Malians, eager to trade for European steel, were willing to pay fabulous prices for crossbows, swords, armor, and even a few small cannon. The various island kingdoms jockeyed for the chance to sell weapons to the Malians, in exchange for raw materials, food, and of course, gold.


    During the period of independence, which lasted from the beginning of the Horse Plague until the last protectorate was proclaimed in 1639, the last of the native-held islands were conquered by the various islands states that developed. The Mali Empire, reinvigorated by the influx of technology and modern warfare tactics, continued its war with the Songhai Empire. The Songhai, for their part, were hit with a double blow: the loss of their trade with North Africa and the Arab world after the plague, and the increased power of their all-but-defeated foes to the south. As contact with Europe resumed, the various island kingdoms became clients of European powers, who stepped into the roles that the islands had played as an arms supplier to the rich and resurgent Mali kingdom.
     
  10. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

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    Now that is a butterfly I didn't see coming: Mali surviving. Will they go a-colonizing in the rest of Africa or the coast of Brazil?

    It sounds like the Fortunate Isles become analgous to the Italian city states, except frontier versions of the same.

    I'm anxious to see the religious ramifications. I seem to recall some very...unique...changes in the Ottoman Empire.

    Also, the map's shading of the British Isles makes me think that Ireland and Scotland may have more of a level playing field against English ambitions.
     
  11. corourke Member Donor

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    I don't think they're going to go colonizing places across the ocean, but if they play their cards right they might manage to remain independent. I actually don't know very much about the Mali society or economy, if anyone has any details about that I'd love to hear it.

    How do you mean? That sounds interesting.

    The religious impacts won't begin to manifest themselves for another couple of updates, but when they do, everything changes. I have the Ottoman Empire developing a syncretic-type religion because of the increased Greek influence within the Empire after the plagues desolate so much of Anatolia.
     
  12. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

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    Well, in saying the Isles might become like Italian City states, I meant that they might become a micro international state system unto themselves. This might incentive development and a certain amount of cultural flourishing. Like the Italians, their wealth would be based on trade with a distant realm (Europe) and conveying unique items that a third party (Mali) can't produce itself.

    Also, as far as I know, Mali was a tribute empire with a very loose power structure. A successful war against the Songhai could allow them to solidify and transform into a more viable state, I suppose.
     
  13. Atom Future Human

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    I'm glad that you changed the surviving city in Italy to Pisa, rather then Florence. It gives cooler butterflies. I to like the surving Mali butterfly, it makes the world more interesting. Are you planning to make a political map of Europe soon?
     
  14. corourke Member Donor

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    That's actually exactly what I have in mind. The Fortunate Isles, and later the Caribbean to an even greater degree, will become a microcosm of international relations. Eventually, these areas could become a sort of "international zone", where every influential state owns some territory and has representatives. We're going to have a lot of treaties named after Caribbean islands in this TL, because everyone is going to have an ambassador there.

    I wasn't really planning on it, as it's pretty difficult to depict international chaos on a map. I suppose I could make one of Spain, since it had significant territorial changes in the wake of the plague, but most places had internal changes that can't really be depicted on a map. I'll definitely do one after the Reformist Wars.
     
  15. corourke Member Donor

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    The Horse Plague’s Effects on the Spanish Caribbean

    I've added a lot more information about the society that develops on Hispaniola, I hope you guys like it.

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    [FONT=&quot]The Horse Plague’s Effects on the Spanish Caribbean [/FONT]

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    The Spanish colonists in the New World were forced to abandon most colonies.

    The cessation of Spanish support in the form of trade goods, supplies, and, of course, young men after the beginning of the Horse Plague had disastrous effects on the still young colonies in the New World. The extraction-based economies that the Spanish had set up in the Caribbean Islands were unable to provide for the needs of their inhabitants without the frequent shipments of European goods that arrived on the galleons coming across the ocean. Likewise, the atrocious death rates due to disease meant that the colonies required near-constant reinforcement, which dried up as soon as the plague hit Iberia. The natives of the Caribbean, after the Spanish ran out of weapons, livestock, and other valuable trade items, were satisfied to leave the European interlopers to their own devices.


    Some of the Spanish colonists of the Caribbean were able to simply join the native societies that sometimes surrounded them. Though not exactly common during the second wave of New World colonialism, it was not unheard of to encounter native communities speaking some variant of Castilian, and even today Spanish influence is apparent in some of the Creole tongues of the Caribbean. The only place where Spanish colonists really survived in a recognizable form, however, was the island of Hispaniola.


    By 1514, most of the colonies had collapsed. Only the island of Hispaniola, governed by Diego Colón, was able to successfully convert its economy from an extraction-based, native trade-reliant one to one based on the farming of pigs and maize. Colón was able to consolidate his power by retreating the southeast of the island, around Santo Domingo. This part of the island had been settled the longest and was consequently the most developed, and Colón was able to create a ‘safe zone’ of farms surrounded by the defensive perimeter of three forts, Fort Ozama, Fort St. Martin, and Fort Santa Maria.



    Many historians have speculated on the reasons for Colón’s success in the face of adversity, and most have come to agree that it was the influx of Spanish colonists fleeing the other failing colonies that allowed the colony to survive. The willingness with which Colón and the other Spanish men in the colonies cohabitated with native servants is also believed to have played a part, and many of the men married one or more of their servants during the period of isolation. Indeed, a tradition of polygamy persisted on the island for more than a hundred years afterward, until intense suppression by the Catholic Church finally eradicated the practice in the early eighteenth century.


    The hybrid society that developed in Hispaniola after the departure of the Spanish imperial forces was a curious one. In essence, the surviving Spanish colonists seemed to have rebuilt the Taino society with themselves at the top of what was essentially a theocracy. The Spanish cast themselves as possessors of sacred information that would lead to salvation. In order to control their population, an extreme emphasis was placed on the urgency of salvation, which could be attained through work for the priests.


    The Spanish were rather lucky in that Taino native religion was based around the concept of a mother and son, something they took full advantage of. The Spanish were able to explain the native god Yúcahu and his mother Atabey as simple incarnations of Jesus and Mary. Under the hot Caribbean sun, the Tainos built megalithic churches to honor their new savior.


    [​IMG]

    The Taino Jesus

    The landscape of southern Hispaniola was soon divided into tightly packed farmsteads, with Tainos growing corn, potatoes, olives, and cassava, as well as raising pigs, chickens, and goats. Each farmstead owed fealty to a noble. The nobles were at first full Spanish blood, but after three generations of interbreeding were hardly distinguishable from the Tainos they oversaw. After a time, the countryside of Hispaniola superficially resembled any Mediterranean countryside, with rows upon rows of carefully cultivated crops and low stone fences dividing the parcels of land.


    One of the most curious things about the Hispaniolan civilization is the extreme population growth it experienced in the years after the cessation of imperial control. Records are spotty, but eyewitness accounts from the next century described a densely populated country with bustling cities and huge temples, many of which still stand today as silent testaments to the power of faith.

     
  16. The Federalist Petty Partisan Pamphleteer

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    Pretty pretty good! :) Looking forward to next update!

    I'm wondering, will Hispaniola eventually expand into the rest of the Caribbean to form a bigger nation?

    And did Horse Plague exist in OTL?
     
  17. Atom Future Human

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    Is the population growth is due to more disease resistance? Or just lots of babies?
     
  18. corourke Member Donor

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    No, I don't think so. If the leadership plays its cards right, however, it might be able to remain independent.

    Nope, it's entirely fictional.

    Lots of babies, but there's enough European genetic material in the population (due to the polygamy mentioned earlier) to impart some disease resistance to the populations of Hispaniola.

    However during this time, the mainland will be experiencing huge epidemics as diseases brought by the Spanish explorers spread across the native populations. These will have mostly run their course by the beginning of the second age of colonization, which begins a little bit after Europe is finished destroying itself in the Reformist Wars.
     
  19. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

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    The Taino Jesus is a nice touch. Glad we see eye to eye on the Isles and the Carribean.
     
  20. Atom Future Human

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    I noticed that you had (in the previous thread) a nate about the Tarasequi. I don't think they would be called that if they where the dominant power, as Tarascan (and presumably Tarasequi) comes from a word in Nahuatl.