Back to the Chronicle of Zuqnin

The plague is raging in the East in the 740’s AD.  We’ve already seen quite enough about it, but the chronicler is not finished.  He ends his description of it as follows:

Everywhere, those who remained – a very small-number –removed the dead, and all day without pause carried them away, threw them down as one would throw a stone on a mound, then back, take another, and go out again, to throw it down the same way. Many lacked neighbours: they were seen lying on the streets and eaten by dogs, because there was no one to bury them. Each was only sufficient for his own house: several workers were even hired just to carry the corpses from the house or from public places because of their putrefaction. And so was fulfilled the saying: “I have brought up the smell of their rotting to your nostrils,” and another: “The earth wept and lamented.”

Soon there were no more tears, no sorrow nor pain: because every man was already knocking on the door of the tomb. Gold and silver were despised as dung: so that if on the wives or virgins there was gold, silver or precious ornaments, no-one would stretch out their hand to take anything, not even the parents of their children: because they felt that soon they would come with them into the tomb and their rottenness would mingle with theirs.

And now, my beloved ones, is it not so reasonable that I weep tears? What sobbing can suffice? What breaking of the heart, what grief, what lamentations, what groans, what pains will be sufficient when I see old men, and men of all ages and sizes, slaughtered and lying down like cedar tree-trunks!

The great mercy of God appeared even in this scourge: firstly because it fell first on the poor who were lying in the streets of cities: everywhere it was through them that it began, [42] and when they were all dead, then this terrible rod turned against the rich and the lords of the cities.

These two things happened by the divine mercy, so as to benefit both parties. First for the city-dwellers, because they showed their zeal for justice and gained for their souls great benefit from their care for the poor, while they were taking care of them; they buried them, organised their funerals and buried them with great mourning, with care, with fear and zeal. Then [for the poor], because if the scourge had hit them at the same time as the others, how would it have been possible, because of their stench, for their fleshless bones to be removed from the streets? For they would have lacked those who could deal with them, if it had not first visited them, when everyone was healthy, upright and well: then care was taken to remove them, in order to bury them, those who had no one to bury them. Subsequently, the scourge caused the powerful, who were relying on their tombs and funeral directors, to remain without graves, so that not one of them had a burial service. The scourge, in fact, turned on the great when the poor had been buried, and death overtook them all, from the smallest to the greatest: none of them was left. Even those who escaped this calamity, and did not die, withdrew, as they could, away from the towns. At the end, those who survived were struck with a terrible wound, in the groin: some with one, the others with two. What had happened to the dead took place among the living.  They were suddenly seized with pain [43] in the groin, and soon, by this sign, those who had escaped death acquired the certainty of suffering more severely thus than by the cruel death. Their groins swelled up, became swollen and burst, and it produced large, deep ulcers that produced a flow of blood, pus and water, day and night, like a spring. After that there was a great languor in which they remained, some one month, others two, five, six months to a year, many even two years. Many of them were affected forever.

Then was fulfilled the prophecy which says: “The water will flow from all the knees,” and: “Every human heart will rot.” and another: “On all their heads will be baldness.”

It happened so in the present time. Anyone who had survived his family or tribe would fall into this infirmity. It happened that his two legs were left running with water and even blood and pus, until his head became bald, and because of that, those who survived, few in number, were not recognizable, at least they were not recognized and were distinguished by their clothing. We could not discern the priests and monks: all had become bald. As it was in the groin, so it was at the armpit and neck. Most were quickly released from this evil, others were after some time, others will never fully recover their health.

But, while this calamity was enveloping the region on all sides like the pains of childbirth oppress pregnant women, the Arabs did not cease to fight and injure each other. When Merwan went out from the Gate of the Turks, the whole earth was troubled and agitated. [44]


Leave a Reply