But the plague came anyway. Probably the gathering of city populations in processions and religious ceremonies offered more opportunities for contagion, as would the enthusiastic war bond rallies in the midst of the World War I influenza epidemic. Many responses were based on a more “natural” explanation of the disease’s cause. Many people believed in some type of contagion, regardless of official “bad air” environmentalist doctrine. Port cities refused to allow ships with plague victims to land. Pistoia imposed quarantines on the movement of people and goods. Bodies of the victims were shunned, thrown over town walls, hastily buried in mass graves while their clothes were burnt. Dogs and cats, possible bearers of contagion, were massacred, allowing the rats more license. Belief in bad air led some to flee to the pure mountains; an extreme (and well-known) example of a search for good air was afforded by Pope Clement VI, who barri- caded himself, surrounded by fires, in his palace in Avignon. He survived. Measures of public health—quarantines, burning the clothes of the sick, dispos- ing of bodies outside town walls—might also be the outcome of a “bad air” theory, if clothes or bodies were thought to produce the corruption.
Immediate Effects The immediate effects of the plague on communities varied, although mortality was high in most places affected by the disease. Studies of particular places in the midst of the epidemic leave different impressions. In some places the fabric of the social order seems to have been surprisingly resilient; after a few months’ interruption, city government resumed its functions, men of the profes- sions went about their business, and social order was consistently maintained. In other cases communities embarked on frenzied searches for scapegoats, and grave social revolution threatened. Almost all communities apparently ground to a halt for a few months. Thus Siena’s economic and political activity largely ceased in June, July, and August 1348: the woolen cloth industry stopped working, olive oil imports ceased, and the city’s courts recessed, while the government ordered religious processions and ended legalized gambling. Fields in the surrounding countryside were neglected, animals wandered uncared-for, and mills closed. From Perpignan in April, May, and June 1348 the only legal documents that survive are wills; other legal or political business apparently simply stopped.