The Bubonic Plague in Europe

The Black Death in Europe was one of the continents worth natural disasters. The bubonic plague wiped out nearly 60% of the population, causing changes that took many years to recover. The effects of art are astonishing. Every person and social class were affected, the church lost prestige and power, as did the doctors and physicians. Politics changes for a short time and the nobility lost wealth. Fear was wide spread, and people lost trust of their families. No one could escape the carnage this illness brought, if they tried, they succeeded in bringing it with them.

Knox (page 15) states that the population losses were staggering, between1347 and 150 nearly 1 to of 3 people where gone. Venetian records stated that the death rates escalated close to 500-600 deaths a day, 60% of Venices population was gone. As with medical professions the clergy suffered great losses as well. Theirs was an occupational hazard; entering the home of the sick, doctors were at greater risk of catching the illness themselves. The clergy had to give the dieing their last rights and preside over the burials, this made for their demise.

As indicated by Knox (page12) those who were learned hade some ideas about what was causing the disease such poisonous vapors released by constellation alignments. They recommended that no fat meant should be eaten at all and bathing was hazardous, these suggestions only made to make people more vulnerable to the plague. The only real action taken that worked was confinement, cities walled themselves off from incoming ships and would quarantine and ill persons house. With the population losses the labor forse was reduced, there was a greater need for crafts men and skilled laborers.

Guilds began opening their doors to other skilled peoples, because when and skilled man died his whole family usually got the plague as well, this mad openings for others. Towns began to advertise higher wages to those artisans and those with skills. If the miller died and the sickens was in his home, then the miller family passed away also, this left none to mill the grain, therefore towns were in need of help. According to Marchione di Coppo Stefani (1370-1380) people looked to the doctors and the clergy for answers and advice, neither had the answers nor the cure.

In the year of the Lord 1348 the was a great pestilence in the city of Florence. It was of such fury and so tempestuous that in houses, which it took, holds previously healthy servants who took care of the ill died of the same illness. Almost none of the ill survived the fourth day. Neither physicians nor medicines were effective. Whether because these illnesses were previously unknown or because physician had not previously studied them, there seemed to be no cure. (Coppo, rubric 643, the Florentine chronicle)

Melissa Snell (1998-2001) said that the symptoms started with a headache, then chills and fever set in and in days the swelling of the lymph glands began to swell. This is because the bacteria attacked the glands and eventually according to Knox (page 5) they would eventually burst causing great pain then death. The flea transmitted the bacterium, when the insect would bit the host, the flea would then regurgitate the bacteria into the wound thus passing it to the person.

Snell states that the glands located in the groin, armpits and neck would turn black, giving the Black Death its name, after bursting the area would ooze with puss and blood, the victim would being to bleed internally, the blood would puddle under the sick causing black spots to appear all over the body. Blood also showed in the person urine and stool. The death was swift yet extremely pain full. It was possible for the victim to pass the pneumonic plague to the healthy by sneezing the bacteria, thus infecting the persons lungs. This form was seen less but yet more common than the Septicemic plague this form infested the victims blood stream,

Snell (1998-2001) says that the person died quicker by this form than any other, often before symptoms appeared, and still there was another form Enteric struck the digestive system. In accordance with Graham Twigg (page 123), the plague was normally founding the Far East rather than Europe, such as Central Asia, Yunan China, Arabia and East Africa. Robert Gottfrieds The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe, stats that the plague traveled from China, and thought to have been carried along the Silk Road into Central Asia in 1339.

Plague reached Sarai, the Volga River, and the Crimea in 1345. From there it spread rapidly. By the next year, 1346, plague epidemics broke out in Astrakhan, Azerbaijan, and throughout the Caucasus. The northern and eastern shores of the Black Sea were ridden with plague, where the plague carrying fleas and rats were picked up in merchant ships and carried south, hiding in bulky crates and scurrying about ship. In the 14th Century, technological innovations in agriculture, such as the three-field planting system, help the rise in Europes population a millennia, says Gottfried (page 11-12).

This could be despite or because of the “Little Ice Age,” that was thought to have happened climactic at this time, which would not end until the mid-16th Century (Gottfried, page 35). A well-developed trade network in expensive luxury goods existed, carrying products by three main routes. The first was entirely overland, running from Northern China, through Central Asia, and then to the Black Sea. This was the famous “Silk Road” manly carrying oriental spices and silk. Spice trading ran along a route from South Asia to the Persian Gulf, and then overland by caravan to the Levant.

These are the paths that the plague took to Europe from the east. A second spice route ran by sea from South Asia to the Red Sea and Egypt (Twigg, page 118). In the 1350s, after hitting Finland the plague took nearly 60% of Chinas population also (Micheal Dols, 1977, page 39) At every church, or at most of them, they dug deep trenches, down to the water line, wide and deep, depending on how large the parish was. And those who were responsible for the dead carried them on their backs in the night in which they died and threw them into the ditch, or else they paid a high price to those who would do it for them.

The next morning, if there were many [bodies] in the trench, they covered them over with dirt. And then more bodies were put on top of them, with more dirt over those; they put layer on layer just like one puts layers of cheese in lasanga. (Coppo, The Florentine Chronicle, Rubric 643, 1370-1380) Knox (page21) states that political effects were not as drastic as others the Hundred Years War was suspended but soon resumed, and the Parliaments adjourned but later reconvened. The king of Castile was the only reigning king to die from this illness, as did the son of the king of the Byzantine Empire.

The courts closed down and the legal troubles caused but the deaths were eventually set to rights. The changes in art of this time are called danse macabre the artests choose to represent death in their paintings and carvings. Art idolized by the Christian religion was abandoned for depictions of rotting flesh and the diseased conversing with the living. (Knox page 20) In Europe and the Middle East, local plague outbreaks would recur every few years, keeping human populations in check and resulting in depopulation. It took Europe two centuries to return to the population level of the mid-14th Century.

Incredibly, this disaster had some positive environmental effects. The depopulation caused the abandonment of much farmland. This resulted in its return to the fields to nature. The severe depopulation was a major contributing factor to many social and economic changes in Europe, an example of this is deterioration of manorial feudalism. In conclusion the Black Death was a divider between the times of change on the historical timeline. Stayed with the people for many years, European population didnt fully recover until the 1500s and for years after ward the peoples still told tales of the time and records were kept.

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