From the Brink of the Apocalypse: Confronting Famine, War, Plague, and Death in the Middle Ages
by John Aberth
New York: Routledge, 2000
Europe during the later Middle Ages was a scene of unparalleled chaos. At no other time in history did so much misery — in the form of famine, war, plague, and death — descend upon the earth. At times it must have seemed like the end of the world was truly at hand. And yet, as John Aberth reveals in this lively work, a firm belief in the ways of providence and the first stirrings of greater political freedom allowed communities to endure. Far from conventional notions of the waning of the Middle Ages, John Aberth reveals here a world with fears, hopes, and passions that we recognize as our own.
Relying on rich literary and historical sources John Aberth brings this period vividly to life. Taking his themes from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he describes how the Great Famine and Black Death swept away nearly half of Europe’s population, while the royal houses of England and France were engaged in a Hundred Year War that meant perpetual political strife. Above all loomed the specter of Death, ever present and constantly feared.
Throughout the later Middle Ages, ordinary people were transformed by these daunting and fearful series of crises, yet in their prayers, chronicles, poetry, and especially their commemorative art are foreshadowings of the age to come. As John Aberth reveals in this informative and sympathetic work, in their struggles we glimpse the birth of the modern.
John Aberth is Associate Professor of History at the University of Nebraska and is the author of Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward III. He divides his time between Omaha, Nebraska, and Roxbury, Vermont.