Primary Source

Italian accounts of the Black Death [Personal Accounts]


Several chroniclers wrote about the Black Death in their own town or region. They described the symptoms of the disease, which they generally called "the mortality," how it arrived with portents of warning from the East, and how many people it killed. Some accounts are long and embellished with the descriptions of townspeople's actions, but most are brief, providing little more than the dates for the plague's entry and mortality rates, which they usually inflated. The description of families and children, if present, is often quite short. The chroniclers wrote in either Latin or Italian. Note the terms they use in the original language as well as the modern English translation.


[1] Chronicle of Marco Battagli of Rimini, from the "Marcha di Marco Battagli da Rimini." In Rerum Italicarum Scriptores [RIS]. Vol. 16, part 3. Edited by A. F. Massèra, 54. Città di Castello, 1912, 54. [2] Chronicle of Guglielmo Cortusi of Padua, from the "Chronica de Novitatibus Padue et Lombardie Guilielmi de Cortusis." In RIS. Vol. 12, part 5. Edited by B. Pagnin, 120–21. [3] Città di Castello, 1941, 120–121. Tuscan Chronicle Account, from the "Storie Pistoresi." In RIS. Vol. 11, part 5. Edited by S. A. Barbi, 235. Città di Castello, 1906, 235. [4] Chronicle of Agnolo di Tura del Grasso, in "Cronica senese di Agnolo di Tura del Grasso." In RIS. Vol. 15, part 6. Edited by ed. A. Lisini and F. Iacometti, 555. Bologna, 1935, 555. Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray.

Primary Source Text

1. Chronicle of Marco Battagli of Rimini
The chronicler of Rimini, from the northeastern coastal region, wrote that "father fled his son once he became sick, brother avoided brother, wife her husband, and thus the healthy fled from the ill."

[Original in Latin]
pater postea infirmum filium evitabat, frater fratrem, uxor virum, et sic de singulis sani infirmos penitus evitabant.

2. Chronicle of Guglielmo Cortusi of Padua
Guglielmo Cortusi wrote in his city chronicle of Padua that during the plague "wife fled the embrace of a dear husband, the father that of a son, and the brother that of a brother."

[Original in Latin]
uxor fugiebat amplexum cari viri, pater filii, frater fratris.

3. Tuscan Chronicle Account
The Storie Pistoresi announce that in Tuscany and especially in Pisa, "father abandoned son, children abandoned their mother and father, and one brother abandoned the other."

[Original in Italian]
lo padre abbandonava li figliuoli, e' figliuoli lo padre e la madre, e l'uno fratello l'altro.

4. Chronicle of Agnolo di Tura del Grasso
The Sienese chronicler, Agnolo di Tura del Grasso, left a poignant account of the plague. "It is not possible," he says "to describe this horrible thing with human speech." After noting truncated burial practices, without priest, appropriate liturgy or bells, he discusses the subject of child abandonment with the familiar words "father abandoned child, wife her husband, and one brother the other." He, himself, did not abandon his children for he tells us that he buried his five children with his own hands.

[Original in Italian]
El padre abbandonava el figluolo, la moglie el marito, e l'uno fratello l'altro.

How to Cite This Source

"Italian accounts of the Black Death [Personal Accounts]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #178, (accessed August 10, 2021). Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray