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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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4 Collateral of the Plague: Children of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Effects of the Black Death

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4

Collateral of the Plague

Children of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

As the Middle Ages was a period of time marked by the plague, there was a remarkable decimation of the world population; a reduction from 450 million to about 350 million in the fourteenth century. In Europe alone the Black Death was estimated to have reduced the population from between thirty and sixty percent. As in other time periods, mortality among infants under the age of one year was high, and fifty percent of children did not make it to adult hood.1 As a disproportionate number of children were felled by the plague, a greater appreciation of the very young manifested in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.2

The Black Death of the Middle Ages was actually three different types of plague. The fatal form, septicemic, was spread by fleas, while the pneumonic variety was spread by coughing and sneezing. The bubonic plague, also caused by fleas, was more widespread, representing seventy-five percent of all cases of the plague; however, it was less deadly and less contagious. Incidences of the bubonic plague tended to rise over spring and summer.3 Because of misunderstandings of the nature ← 51 | 52 → of the different types of plague and the fear of contagion, the dead were often unceremoniously buried in pits.

While greater value was ascribed to children after the plague began to abate, some parents abandoned their children at the onset...

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