Hist 1303 Western Civilization to 1500
Spring 2014 T Th 9:25- 10;40
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The Black Death
In October 1347, there was a plaque pandemic that struck a good part of the earth’s surface (Exploring the Middle Ages 99). It was first referred to as the great dying, but latter changed to the Black Death. It is believed to have originated from the mid sections of Asia and spread through the whole of Middle East, Europe and the upper regions of Africa. It was carried around by fleas which infested human hair, clothes, beddings, and rodents more especially rats. The pandemic was first detected in ports from where it spread fast into the lands through rivers and roads. Towns and big cities were most affected as compared to rural areas since they received more immigrants from different towns and cities. This pandemic of the Black Death claimed more than half the lives in Europe. This affected the continent almost a century and a half later. People became traumatized and feared death. However, religion played a great role in helping people maintain their hope despite the fear.
The different contemporary societies were struck by the plaque pandemic in different ways. There was the account from Messina, which tries to explain the arrival and the progress of the disease. The account states that in the October of 1347, 12 Genoese went to the port of Menissa (Duiker, William J, and Jackson 346). The carried a lethal disease that anyone who talked to them got infected with the disease. One infected a person would feel pain in the whole body and start to develop huge boils. The person would then constantly vomit blood for around three days after which he/she would die. Not only did the disease spread through contact, people were also infected when they spoke to the infected people. After realizing this, the people of Messina rejected the infected people, and they were considered as outcasts. Special people were ordered to bury people who died of the disease. However, the disease did not end, and it killed people even those who fled to other towns such as Catania. The strange disease swept the whole of Messina. I Catania, infected people grew bigger blisters around the neck, arms, thighs, and groin. They then violently shivered, vomited blood and succumbed to it within no time. By 1348, all the people in Catania, including those who never related or talked with the infected people.
In another account by Agnolo from Siena. He stated that the period of the plague pandemic was the most horrible one anyone had ever experienced. It was very disturbing to see human beings suffer and die helplessly. They swelled all over the body, felt pain, and vomited blood to their death. Fathers abandoned their families in fear of contacting the disease. At that moment, the disease was believed to be transmitted through sight and breath. The dead bodies were being buried in mass graves that filled up as soon as they were dug. Such a pandemic had never been experienced, and people thought that the world was eventually coming to an end.
Contrary to the belief by most of the people in the 21st century, public officials and churchmen reacted appropriately to the pandemic. They did not take it as punishments from God for the sin the people were committing, but they believed it was a disease. They therefore, took steps to deal with the disease even though their effectiveness was limited to the level of their knowledge. Cities were hit the hardest by this pandemic. Some cities took measures to try and control it while others did nothing. Those who took the initiative to block immigration reduced the number of deaths as compared to those countries which took no initiative or effort at all.
There exists numerous theories that try to explain the origin of the place. One that seem most convincing explains that the disease originated from the region around Himalayas. The plaque was transmitted by flea bites, which were being carried by human hair and rodents. Climatic change around the Himalayas region pushed these rodents down to human habitats. The climatic change caused a food shortage and so the rodents moved to human infested regions in search of food. When they came into contact with humans, they infected them with the deadly disease.
There were three types of diseases that struck the people in the era of the Black Death. The most predominant one was the bubonic plaque (Byrne 23). Humans contracted this type of sickness from flea bites. Once infected with this type of sickness, a person would huge lymph nodes and boils which released puss and dark blood, the individual’s skin would break and turn dark to, and the person would experience fever and would vomit blood to his/her death. The second type of plaque was the pneumonia (Marrie 778). It was less prevalent than bubonic but was much lethal. The infection was airborne, and one would contract it just by breathing in infected air. An infected person would have fluid in the lungs, have difficulty in breathing, and would suffocate to death. The pneumonic plague killed within a shorter period of time of less than three days from the day of infection. Septicaemia infection was the third type of infection (Ollhoff 12). This was the least common one but the most deadly. Septicaemic infection was found in the blood, and only contact with infected blood would infect one with this type of infection. It caused death in less than 24 hours once contracted.
The Black Death has a lot of negative impact on the society and culture of the people (Greer 87). The high number of death causes a change in the social structure of the society. Some communities had already began developing, and the huge number of deaths had a negative impact on such societies. There is a good portion of the people who believed that the plague was a punishment from the gods due to the immorality that was being done by people. Therefore, they switched their way of life to a righteous one and began to worship God. Religion became more pronounced, and immorality was greatly reduced.
Lack of knowledge about the pandemic caused people to react differently. Some societies believed that specific groups of people brought the curse to their lands. For instance, some societies killed the Jews since they believed that they were responsible for the pandemic. Other marginalized groups such as the poor were are discriminated and cast out of the societies for the belief that they were responsible for the “curse”. Movement and interaction between different communities was greatly reduces, and people lived with fear. Walls were erected around communities and guards put at every entry and exit. Because of the illness, reinforcement of law and order was neglected. As a result, people took advantage of this and broke the law for their own benefit.
Byrne, Joseph P. The Black Death. Westport (Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.
Duiker, William J, and Jackson J. Spielvogel. World History. Belmont, CA:
Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007. Print.
Exploring the Middle Ages. Tarrytown, N.Y: Marshall Cavendish Reference, 2006. Print.
Greer, John Michael. The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a post-peak world. New Society
Marrie, Thomas J. Community-acquired Pneumonia. New York [u.a.: Kluwer Academic /
Plenum Publishers, 2001. Print.
Ollhoff, Jim. Black Death. ABDO Publishing Company, 2010.
Ziegler, Philip. The black death. Faber & Faber, 2013.