Open search
« Tuna 3 / 2017

The Plague of 1603 in Tallinn on the Basis of Georg Müller’s Revenue Book

A severe famine hit the whole of Livonia in 1602–1603. However, in Tallinn the plague of 1603 had even more catastrophic consequences and clearly constituted a much more acute concern than hunger for the citizens. This article studies the mortality rate caused by the plague in Tallinn on the basis of the revenue book of Georg Müller, a Deacon of the Church of the Holy Spirit (1601–1608). The second main source for the present study is an account book of the revenues from the funerals of St. Olaf’s Church in Tallinn that dates back to January of 1603. Müller’s revenue book shows that the number of funerals grew to more than one burial per day from November of 1601 to September of 1602 (Table 1). The cause for this higher mortality rate was obviously the famine circumstances. It is evident from the sources that the plague arrived in Tallinn in February of 1603. The number of funerals where Deacon Müller was involved increased abruptly from May–June of 1603 and remained high until September of the same year. The same trend of a growing number of burials can be seen in the account book of St. Olaf’s Church (Table 2). Thus it seems that the plague culminated in Tallinn in the two months of July and August, and receded for good in November of 1603. This epidemiological pattern reflects well the seasonal character of bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis).

Regarding the number of plague victims of 1603 in Tallinn, two numbers have been repeatedly mentioned in the current historiography. According to a comment by Georg Müller in his draft sermon from July of 1603, 11,130 victims had been buried at the former Chapel of St. Barbara over the previous three years. Secondly, 511 members of St. Olaf’s congregation had died between June and September of 1603. However, both numbers cannot be taken uncritically. Müller dated his comment June of 1603, which means that it was made before the culminating months of the plague that raged in July-August, when the number of deaths more than doubled. The account book of St. Olaf’s Church mentions at least

656 burials in 1603. An attempt to reconstruct the overall number of official burials in Tallinn in 1603 suggests that it could reach between 3,000 and 5,400. In stark contrast, the number of funerals in Tallinn was strikingly low in 1604. The latter number allows one to conclude that the population of Tallinn had decreased to 2,267 as the total minimum of people who survived the plague in 1604.

Müller’s entries concerning funerals also give us an overview of the burial grounds and cemeteries in Tallinn at the beginning of the 17th century. Alto- gether, Müller mentions ten burial places all over the town of Tallinn (Table 3). Müller conducted almost 40 per cent of the burials outside the town wall. This confirms that the Deacon often buried people from the poorer groups of the town’s inhabitants, or immigrants, who suffered most from the famine and plague. Müller’s revenue entries show that the Deacon’s income increased remarkably during the years of famine and plague, though the nominal fees for the services were not changed in spite of the enormous inflation due to the hunger crisis (Table 4). The number of funeral services simply increased more than tenfold in the summer of 1603. Müller’s very high workload of burial services can also be explained by the fact that most of the clerics holding office in Tallinn also succumbed to the plague during 1602–1603. Deacon Müller was one of the few survivors.