The bustling port town of Bergen, Norway was home to a few thousand people in the fourteenth century. It was a northern center of a vast German-dominated trading coalition of cities called the Hanseatic League. A trading center and Norway’s largest city until the 1830s, ships entered and left the harbor on a regular basis. In 1349, a ship entering the port would change the history of Norway forever. Legend has it that an unmanned ghost ship arrived in the harbor. Curious locals went out to explore it and found that the entire crew had died of plague before the ship made it to shore. These people who sailed out to the ship then brought the plague back with them to land. The image of an eerie ghost ship makes the plague’s entry into Norway both disconcerting and dramatic.
Actually, there are conflicting stories as to whether any of the crew were alive by the time the ship ran aground in Bergen Harbor. Because the ship was able to get as close as it did, sophisticated navigation techniques were likely used, suggesting that some of the crew remained alive. What is known, however, is that the Great Morality spread throughout Europe between 1347–1351 following the trade routes. A ship set out from England for Bergen with at least one person affected. The symptoms may have taken a little while to show up, after the ship had already gone far out to sea.