Great Plague of Marseille

The Great Plague of Marseilles was the last of the significant European outbreaks of bubonic plague . Arriving in Marseille , France in 1720, the disease killed 100,000 people in the city and the surrounding provinces. [1] However, Marseille quickly recovered from the plague outbreak. Economic activity took only a few years to recover, as did West Indies and Latin America. By 1765, the growing population was back at its pre-1720 level.

Pre-plague city

Sanitation board

At the end of the plague of 1580, the people at Marseilles took dramatic steps towards the future spread of disease. The city council of Marseilles established a sanitation board, whose members were to be drawn from the city council and the doctors of the city. The exact founding date of the board is unknown, but its existence is first mentioned in a 1622 text of the Parliament of Aix . The newly established sanitation board then made a series of recommendations for maintaining the health of the city. [2]

The most major component of the sanitation board has been established in the bureaucracy for the maintenance of the health of Marseilles. In addition to protecting the city from the public, the sanitation of the public. The first public hospital of Marseilles was also built during this time, complete with a full-sized staff of doctors and nurses. Additionally, the sanitation board was responsible for the accreditation of local doctors. Citing the vast amount of misinformation that propagates during a plague, the sanitation board sought at a minimum. [3]

The sanitation board is one of the first executive bodies formed by the city of Marseilles, and it is equipped with a full-time staff of the board.

Quarantine system

The largest component of the health system of Marseilles was the three-tiered quarantine system. Members of the Sanitation board inspected all incoming ships The “bill of health” then determined the ship and its cargo access to the city.

A delegation of the members of the sanitation board to greet every incoming ship. They were then to ask for the captain ‘s log, which recorded every day of the month, and to consult the sanitation board of the Mediterranean. The delegation also inspected the cargo, crew and passengers looking for signs of possible disease. Should they see signs of disease, they have been turned away from Marseilles docks. There may have been no signs of disease, but the ship’s itinerary included a city with published activity, then the ship was sent to the third tier of quarantine on islands outside Marseilles harbor. The criteria for the lazarettos were breakdown (to get off the miasma of disease),[4]

A clean bill of health has been a long time and a minimum of 18 days quarantine. During such a time, the crew would be held in one of the lazarettos that were constructed around the city. Which lazaretto one stayed at one’s bill of health. With a clean bill, one went to the largest quarantine site, which was equipped with a large number of crew members. If they were there, they were more likely to quarantine a site, which was built on an island off the coast of the Marseille harbor. The crew and passengers were able to wait to see if they were able to sign any sign of plague. [5]

Once crews have served their time, they have been allowed to enter into the city of Paris.

Outbreak and fatalities

This great outburst of plague was the last recurrence of a pandemic of bubonic plague , following the devastating episodes that began in the mid-fourteenth century with the European Black Death . [6] In 1720, Yersinia pestisarrived at the port of Marseille from the Levant on the Grand-Saint-Antoine merchant ship The vessel had departed from Sidon in Lebanon , having previously called at Smyrna , Tripoli , and plague-ridden Cyprus. It first infected and killed a Turkish passenger, followed by several crew members and the ship’s surgeon. The ship was admitted to the port of Livorno and, on arrival at Marseilles, was promptly placed under quarantine in the lazaret by the port authorities. [7] Due to its monopoly on French trade with the Levant, this important port has a large stock of imported goods in the United States and is active in the New World. Powerful city merchants needed the silk and cottoncargo of the ship for the great medieval fair at Beaucaire and pressured authorities to lift the quarantine.

A few days later, the disease broke out in the city. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed, and residents panicked, driving the sick from their homes and out of the city. Serious mass were dug but were quickly filled. Eventually the number of dead overcame city public health efforts, until thousands of bodies scattered scattered around the city.

Attempts to stop the spread of the plague included an Act of the Parliament of Aix that the death penalty for any communication between Marseille and the rest of Provence. To enforce this separation, a plague wall, the Wall of Plague , was erected across the countryside. The wall was built of dry stone, 2m high and 70cm thick, with guard posts set back from the wall. Remains of the wall can still be seen in different parts of the Plateau de Vaucluse.

During a two-year period, 50,000 of Marseille’s total population of 90,000 died, and an additional 50,000 people, eventually reaching Aix-en-Provence , Arles , Apt and Toulon . Estimates indicate an overall death rate of between 25% -50% for the population in the greater area, with the city of Marseille at 40%, the area of ​​Toulon at above 50%, and the area of ​​Aix and Arles at 25%.

After the plague subsided, the royal government defenses the defenses of the port, building the waterside Lazaret d’Arenc . A double line of 15-footed walls in the whitewashed compound, which has been investigated by the United States, where merchantmen have been examined. [8]

Recent research

In 1998, an excavation of a mass grave of victims of the bubonic plague outbreak by the University of the Mediterranean . [9] The excavation provided an opportunity to study more than 200 skeletons from an area in the second arrondissement in Marseille, known as the Monastery of the Observance. In addition to modern laboratory testing, archival records have been studied to determine the conditions of this grave. This multidisciplinary approach has previously been reported to have been of interest to the epidemic of 1722. The reconstruction of the skull of one body, a 15-year-old boy, revealed the first historical evidence of an autopsy The anatomical techniques used to appear in a surgical book dating from 1708.

See also

  • List of Bubonic plague outbreaks
  • Peasants’ Revolt
  • Plague of Justinian
  • Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
  • Plague Riot
  • Third pandemic


  1. Jump up^ Duchêne & Contrucci (2004).
  2. Jump up^ p. 17 Françoise Hildesheimer
  3. Jump up^ p. 53, Françoise Hildesheimer
  4. Jump up^ p. 361, Roger Duchêne and Jean Contrucci
  5. Jump up^ p. 366, Roger Duchêne and Jean Contrucci
  6. Jump up^ Duchene and Contrucci (2004), Chronology. Marseilles suffered from epidemics of the European Black Death in 1348 (recurring intermittently until 1361), in 1580 and 1582, and in 1649-1650.
  7. Jump up^ Duchêne & Contrucci (2004), pages 361-362.
  8. Jump up^ The plague and the lazarets of Marseilles; commented bySimon Schama,Landscape and Memory1995: 245f.
  9. Jump up^ Signoli, Seguy, Biraben Dutour & Beautiful (2002).


  • Hildesheimer, Françoise (1980), The Office of Health of Marseille under the Ancien Régime. Containment of contagion. , Historical Federation of Provence
  • Duchene, Roger; Contrucci, Jean (2004), Marseille, 2,600 years of history (in French), Fayard, ISBN  2-213-60197-6 , Chapter 42, pages 360-378.
  • Signoli, Michel; Seguy, Isabelle; Biraben, Jean-Noel; Dutour, Olivier; Belle, Paul (2002), “Paleodemography and Historical Demography in the Context of an Epidemic: Plague in Provence in the Eighteenth Century”, Population , National Institute for Demographic Studies, 57 : 829-854 (available on JSTOR )

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