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The Black Death

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The Black Death

The Black Death

How did The Black Death affect European society? It is impossible to discuss Europe’s history without mentioning the Plague of 1348, also known as the Black Death. The Black Death reached Italian shores in the spring of 1348. The presence of such a plague was enormously devastating making its mark in unprecedented numbers in recorded history. The population of some cities and villages in England and Italy fell by 70% – 80%. Europe in 1420 counted barely 1/3 of the people it contained one hundred years prior.

The Black Death was caused by bacteria named Yersinia Pestis. This germ was transferred from rats to fleas and then to humans. This disease spread quickly due to the infestation of rats. Also, sanitary conditions were very poor which did not help the problem at all. When a human was infected, the bacteria moved from the bloodstream traveling to the lymph nodes. The plague occurred in three forms: Bubonic, Pneumonic and Septicemic. The bubonic plague spread by fleas and made lymph glands in ground and armpit swell. Pneumonic attacked the lungs, was most infectious and could be spread directly through coughing. Septicemic was the most rare and dangerous of the three. It was also spread by fleas, attacked the bloodstream and people were known to die within hours. Victims suffered with painful swelling of the lymph nodes and were subject to bodily aches, headaches, vomiting, and nausea. Plague victims underwent severe damage to skin leading to bleeding under the skin which transformed to dark blotches.

The name “Black Death” was never used in the Middle Ages. The first to use the term were Danish and Swedish chroniclers of the sixteenth century. In the 1340’s, the Europeans called it “Big Death” or “Great Mortality”. Historians believe it comes from the translation of the Latin words atra mors which means “terrible death” or “black death”.

The consequences of this plague were tragic and included depopulation, economics and religious effects, and social change. The great population loss only served to worsen the economy. This massive plague also caused many people to lose faith in their religion, weakening the power of the church. After 1350, European culture in general turned extremely melancholic. The general mood was a depressing one. Art work that was previously seen as beautiful or symbolic had turned into work that was dark with representation of death.

The Black Death itself caused a massive depopulation in Europe’s economy. This factor caused a major disorder in society. This disruption gave peasants a better opportunity in the labor force as they were much needed. While some slaves and peasants chose not to perform their duties out of fear that they would become a victim of the plague, the shortage of skilled workers gave peasants a chance at a better life because there were more jobs for those that were willing to work and they were able to negotiate better wages. High mortalities also left numerous posts in society unfilled and services unperformed. Physicians were in high demand during this time period and Grave Diggers gained special importance due to the fact that hundreds of people were dying on a daily basis. “Dead bodies filled every corner. Most of them were treated in the same manner by the survivors, who were more concerned to get rid of their rotting bodies than moved by charity towards the dead. With the aid of porters, if they could get them, they carried the bodies out of the houses and laid them at the door; where every morning quantities of the dead might be seen. They then were laid on biers or, as these were often lacking, on tables.

Such was the multitude of corpses brought to the churches every day and almost every hour that there was not enough consecrated ground to give them burial, especially since they wanted to bury each person in the family grave, according to the old custom. Although the cemeteries were full they were forced to dig huge trenches, where they buried the bodies by hundreds. Here they stowed them away like bales in the hold of a ship and covered them with a little earth, until the whole trench was full."

Under this new plague, a new society had formed. As a reaction to such a disaster, many citizens went about excluded themselves from society in order to avoid the plague. Homes were abandoned and towns were left nearly empty as people enclosed themselves into small communities of only the healthy. This was all done in hopes of preserving themselves from the epidemic. The sick did not receive much help as many adopted the policy to avoid the sick and everything they owned.

Many of the citizens now possessed a selfish mind frame brought

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