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The Black Death

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Essay title: The Black Death

The Black Death, or The Black Plague, was one of the most deadly pandemics in human history. The Black Death erupted in the Gobi Desert in the late 1320s.The total number deaths worldwide from the pandemic is estimated at 75 million people which was about two-thirds of Europe's population. It reached Paris in the spring 1348 and England in September 1348. 1348 was the worst of the plague years. It took longer to reach the periphery of Europe. Norway was hit in May 1349. The eastern European countries were not reached until 1350.The Black Death serves as a convenient divider between the central and the late Middle Ages.

The psychological impact of the plague was great because mortality could not be explained. Some people experienced sudden death, while others died after 4-5 days and others recovered. Most confusing, the chance of death appeared unrelated to Christian teachings on human behavior.

DEPOPULATION

In the space of two years between 1347 to 1350 one out of every three people was dead. Between 45% and 75% of Florence died in a single year. In Venice, 60% died over the course of 18 months. The Plague returned periodically, striking mostly children, until it disappeared from Europe in 1399. The net result was that by 1400, Europe's population was half what it had been in 1345.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Financial business was disrupted as debtors died along with his whole family and many of his kinsmen and their creditors found themselves without recourse. Construction projects stopped for a time or were abandoned altogether. Guilds lost their craftsmen and could not replace them. The labor shortage was very severe, especially in the short term, and consequently, wages rose. Because of the mortality, there was an oversupply of goods, and so prices dropped. Between the two trends, the standard of living rose . . . for those still living.

CULTURAL EFFECT

The plague touched everyone, rich and poor alike. The whole community of scholars suffered as universities and schools, usually located in regions hardest hit, were closed or even abandoned. Sixteen of the forty professors at Cambridge died. The priests died and no one could hear confession. After 1350, European culture in general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism and the art turned dark with representations of death.

ART

The tone of despair appears eventually in the art of the times, though not immediately. One striking example can be seen in tomb sculptures which show some half-decomposed bodies with parts of the skeleton clearly visible which was a ghastly sight.

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