The Black Death was a plague that hit Europe between the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Europe underwent a dramatic change that involved all socially, economically, and agriculturally as well. The results of this disaster were both good and bad. Many people and groups had different views, remedies, and ideas of causes for this plague. The views of the people reflected their society, beliefs, religion, and technology. The Black Death was another name for the Black Plague. This epidemic struck with full force in 1348. It killed off hundreds of thousands of people, nearly half of Europe’s population. The lower estimate is 25,000,000 people. The people killed were of all classes, sexes, and ages. Although most victims were peasants and lower class people, the rich who tried to flee were also infected.
It is estimated that the Black Death killed more people than have all the wars ever fought. By the 1300s Europeans faced great crop failures. Famine was the end result. Every European was prepared to face extreme hunger at least once in their lifetime, an average of 35 years. The most densely populated areas experienced the greatest hunger, such places were the industrial ones. These places in turn faced overpopulation, economic depression, famine, and very poor living standards. Conditions like these together made the people of these areas extremely vulnerable to bubonic plague.
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Bacteria generally cause the Black Plague but spread through the bite of a flea that bit an infected rodent such as a rat or squirrel. Once bacteria gets into a person it is further spread by mucus droplets from coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. The symptoms would be high fever, swollen lymph nodes, rash, change in blood pressure, tumors in the groin or armpits, septicemia, and pneumonia. The most popular symptom was discoloration of the body before and after death. These symptoms were extremely painful. If not treated, which was virtually impossible at the time, 80 percent of the people would die within a few days.
The Plague started in Sicily in late 1347. It followed major trade routes from Asia through Europe. The plague entered Venice, Genoa, and Pisa through ports. The Black Plague was also found in Northern Europe, Spain, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, France, and much more. Only a few places were spared, such as Bohemia, which was off the major trade routes. Physicians had very little knowledge or understanding about this plague. There was very little medically associated defense for this catastrophe. A lot of people relied on their own homemade remedies. Some of the remedies used were aromatic amulets, leeches, bleeding, and flagellants. As shown in document 6, a Sicilian physician quoted the following. “Gold, fire, and gallows.”
The concept of gold was to quarantine the disease, gallows to punish those who violated health regulations, and bonfires to burn infected things. Document 10, written by a French Physician, stated hanging dead or alive toads around the necks of infected patients would draw out the infection from the body. This was one of the many superstitions people had. People blamed this disaster on several things. Some blamed it on the air in the atmosphere, poisonous fumes from earthquakes, filth on the streets, the buildup of foul matter in the body, and dog urine. Others believed in smearing ointments, demons, and other non-sense ideas. Many people relied on religion and faith for the treatment. Charity and compassion were used to avoid the plague as well. Document 2, stated by Erasmus of Rotterdam, quotes how the people believed in filth on the streets and dog’s urine clogging the rushes on the floor.
All these are clear examples of how little medically associated defense at the time. Technology and education came to a sudden stop. People were no longer interested in going to school, learning, leisure activities, art, science, etc. Document 1, written by a schoolmaster, says how 20 boys died from the plague and drew others away. People avoided each other. Parents did not want to send their children to school or go to work. Some cities and towns blocked off all the road networks and routes. People were not allowed to enter or exit different houses at times. Some people died within their own homes of starvation, as stated in document 5. People who died in their homes were buried there. The traditional and respectful burial ideas were abandoned since so many people died in mass bulk. Generally, people were less humane. Some nurses would kill infected people so they can collect their pay. Buying and selling ceased to exist as well. People were afraid to buy products from others thinking they were infected.
Socially the Black Death changed Europe dramatically. Jews were used to scapegoating the plague and were hated by different religions for years to come. Villages died off and the labor supply declined. The artisans suddenly soared on the social scale, many of which came to be from serfs. The prices of manufactured goods and luxury goods rose to new heights. Noble landholders suffered the greatest loss of power. To gain back power and wealth, the landholders converted the farmland into sheep pastures and trade increased. Generally, after the plague, people were encouraged to move to the city and industrialize. Another important result of the Black Death was the political weakening of the Church. The Black Death changed the course of history in Europe entirely. It made Europe transform from a mostly agricultural area to a more industrialized area.
The urbanization declined large families, encouraged industrialization, and changed the power and social class of the landholder, clergy, church, artisan, and peasant. Many people died of the plague and the population drops significantly. It is one of the few things that are both good and bad. Plague is a good thing because it stops large population growth and overpopulation. It is always somewhat bad because it causes declines in certain populations of people. From the following document we were able to see how people reacted to the disaster in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Some by avoiding others some relied on superstition, and others on faith. The people’s response to the Black Death showed what kind of society they lived in. I believe this catastrophe encouraged people to technologically advance, driving them to find out how to stop the next plague.