The epidemics in Romanian Principalities

the epidemics in romanian principalities Moldavia and Wallachia coping with the plague in the 18th century

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been hitting the headlines for almost two years now, worldwide, in the news program and in talk-shows. Physicians, psychologists, sociologists, educational experts as well as other categories of specialists have presented data from the stand point of their own branch of science, in a bid to draw relevant conclusions. Historians have also responded to the challenges of our times, even though their profession is closely linked to exploring the past. So, historians provided their own account of humankind's past experiences related to epidemics. For us, Covid-19 has an identity of its own. And that because science in the 21st century has succeeded to notice it and analyse its behaviour. However, in the past, the agents of disease were not that very well known. At that time, fatality and doomed fate were considered the causes of plagues by the vast majority of people.

Romania's National History Museum and Romania's National Archives jointly staged an exhibition themed Epidemics in the history of Romanian Principalities. The former institution played host to the exhibition. In 2021, Romania's National Archives celebrate 190 years of existence. The Archives were founded in 1831, at a time when the Organic Regulation was issued and which was an early version of a constitution in the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. By way of celebration for its 190 years of existence, the national Archives presented visitors with relevant documents for the plagues that hit Wallachia and Moldavia in the past: the contagions of cholera, typhoid fever, exanthematous typhus and Spanish flu. Archivist Claudiu Turcitu was the coordinator of the exhibition. He gave us details on the exhibition proper and its follow-up.

Claudiu Turcitu:

"In our undertaking, we sought to make the documents visible to the lay public, under the present circumstances. And what better documents we could make visible for them, other than those pertaining to plagues, now that we're celebrating The National Archives 190 years of existence. That's how we got the idea of mounting this exhibition, all the more so as we're also preparing a volume, an edition of documents related to the quarantines service."

Photocopies as well as original documents are among the exhibits. Reproductions of documents include photographs, maps, charts, diary pages, church official acts, official notes, personal notes. But the oldest document the National Archives presented to the public dates form the 17th century, it was also issued at the time of a plague, the disease that claimed the lives of the biggest number of people until the 19th century. On the day of March 12, 1637, Nedelco gave Gligor an acre of vineyard, tools and money found in the house of his brother, Tudor, so that Gligor may get in there and take out his woman and his little boys who had died of plague, and bury them, since nobody could be found to see to their interment". From another documents dated September 1657, we find out that a one Petre Epure had given father Negutu and his sons some apple trees during the plague, when his wife and children had died without taking the Communion.

Claudiu Turcitu:

"We started off from document issued in the year 1637. We grouped them according to the main plagues that struck the Romanian principalities until 1918, being aware of the existing space constraints. The first document dates from the time of the plague and is a zapis, a certifying signed document, from a person, for the burial of those who had died because of the plague. Then we go through documents dated 1813, at the time of Caragea's harrowing plague. We even have a hrisov, a charter, from 1813, signed by Caragea for the Dudesti hospital which had been previously prepared, in 1789, for those who suffered from the plague."

While visiting the exhibition, we also read that in 1827, Ahmed pasha in Nicopole on the river Danube's south bank, allowed the free circulation to the north bank of the river only in the Teleorman river area, where the quarantine was instated. Elsewhere in the principality of Wallachia, people still had to cope with the violent manifestations of the plague. A document, which is relevant even for the year of 1831, is the prayer written by a one Stan, a parish Clerk with the Coltea monastery, located nearby the hospital with the same name in Bucharest. Those were the harrowing years of the cholera epidemic which had terrified the entire population of Wallachia. Another noteworthy document is the executive order issued on February 14, 1846, by  Wallachian ruler Gheorghe Bibescu, whereby parents had to get their children vaccinated against the chicken pox. Apart from the plague, the exhibition presents the other epidemiological scourges that hit the Romanian society in the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century.

Claudiu Turcitu:

"We then go through the cholera epidemic with documents that are part of the War Ministry's quarantines service collection, private documents actually. There are letters and impressions of the personalities of that time having to do with the symptoms of the cholera epidemic, with the treatment, with the medical recipes used to contain the cholera epidemic, which lasted rather long. We then go through the exanthematous typhus, then there is another epidemic that broke out towards the end of World War One, namely the Spanish flu. We're closing the exhibition with Queen Marie's notebooks. We rounded off the exhibition with original documents issued by the interior office of the High Steward (The Interior Ministry) and by the War Ministry, the Ion I. C. Bratianu private collection, actually a report compiled in a bid to get the funding that was required for the exanthematous typhus."

In the past, the epidemics struck the Romanian territory with a devastating force and people know how to cope with the epidemics. However, in our times, in the technological world we live in, we can easily imagine an aseptic future, yet microbiology has not had the last word yet.

(Translated by Eugen Nasta)
Publicat: 2021-11-28 14:00:00
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