chapter  20
10 Pages

Venice, Hospitaller Malta, and fear of the plague: culturally confl icting views

This chapter seeks to understand a theme which has been far too long kept in the shadows: the nature of the relationship between Venice and Hospitaller Malta as determined by the two States’ fear of the plague and other forms of disease and by their controversial assumptions on such epidemics. These differences refl ected yet another reality. The stage which medical science had reached in this regard allowed ample room for wide divergence of opinion on causation, on the very nature of the disease, and on the effective measures to contain it. To say that the plague was a more lethal force than any other deadly phenomenon is to state a self-evident truth. Much more destructive than the corso, it militated against the peaceful and legitimate movement of merchants and merchandise between one port-city and another, relentlessly interrupting lines of communication. Much more ruthless than slavery, it ravaged towns and villages, disrupted the tenor and normal rhythm of ordinary everyday life, and decimated populations. This explained the rigour with which Venice and Hospitaller Malta approached quarantine and other related defensive mechanisms. On arrival in Malta in 1530, the Hospitallers applied the same regulations governing public health on early sixteenth-century Rhodes 1 and observed them with religious scruple. The extent of such infl exibility on the part of the Order often provoked Venetian opposition, at times suspecting ulterior reasons motivating it.