The Black Plague was a horrible epidemic that reached Europe in 1347, and remained there until approximately 1353. Although the Plague made life even harder, it may have helped Europian society in the long run. With feudalism, serfs and peasants could never advance in society, leaving them stuck working the fields on manors for generations. Serfs and Peasants It is estimated that anywhere between 25 to 50 million people died as a result. Although the Black Plague was a tragedy, it managed to alter the course of history in many ways, including economically and socially, religiously, and artistically.
The Black Plague, also referred to as the Black Death, the Plague, and the Bubonic Plague, is believed to have originated in China during the early 1300s.. The bacteria in the disease itself, Yersinia Pestis, is thought to have been carried by fleas on the backs of rodents. There are three types of the plague, the first type being the bubonic plague, in which the lymph nodes would swell and turn into a dark colored lump that would sometimes burst (also known as buboes), hence the name the black death.
Other symptoms include chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. The other two types were known as pneumonic and septicaemic. Pneumonic plague deals with the lungs, causing symptoms such as fever, weakness, chest pain,a cough and bloody mucus, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting. Septicaemic plague is caused by the virus infiltrating the bloodstream, which leads to weakness, chills, abdominal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, shock, bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum, or from under the skin.
It also causes gangrene, which is most commonly found in the nose, fingers, and toes.
The Plague can be traced back to central and eastern Asia, which had been raging on since 1308. The disease spread easily along trade routes such as the Silk Road and by armies such as the Mongols moving west. The Mongols had taken control of the Crimean peninsula in the 1230s, which had left the port city of Caffa in the hands of their empire. An account written by a man named Gabriele De’ Mussi describes the siege of Caffa, and how the invading Tartars (Mongols) used biological warfare to take the city in 1346. Jani Beg, the leader of the Golden Horde Khanate, led the siege. While they were fighting, the soldiers under Jani Beg were struck with the Plague, and were dying too quickly to replenish. Jani Beg decided to use this to his advantage. It states in the text that the Tartars loaded their catapults with their own dead comrades, and launched them over the walls of the city, hoping that the stench would kill them, (this is because during that time period it was widely believed that diseases were spread through tainted air, or the miasmatic theory) and that the city would fall as a result . The people who managed to escape Caffa carried the disease with them farther west. Some of the infected fled to Christian areas such as Sicily, Genoa, Florence, Venice, etc. Black rats also contributed to the spread of the epidemic through carrying infected fleas onboard ships and into homes. One of the most notable instances of the spread of the Plague to the west was in Sicily in 1347. By 1349, the plague had spread into countries as far as Ireland, Britain, France and Spain. The death toll was extremely high, often causing entire towns to be wiped out at a time.
Plague doctors proved to be inefficient and unknowingly spread germs from one patient to the next. Their most common “treatments” included but were not limited to: slashing open and draining the buboes, leeching, and rubbing onions, chopped snake or pigeon on the buboes. Bodies were piling up so fast that it was common for towns to dig giant pits, filling them with hundreds of bodies each, and burning them. Generally, the plague was very easily spread through poor sanitation practices, the movement of infected fleas and rats, the lack of medical knowledge present in medieval times, and the movement of people through trade.
The Social and economic structures of the time were put in danger of collapse during the pandemic, and the effect could be seen for years after it has ceased. With the Plague raging through Europe and millions of people dropping dead, there weren’t many people left to provide manual labor. The manorial system was the main social system at the time. Manors were in desperate need of vassals and peasant farmers to work their land. Without farmhands, the fate of many families would’ve been starvation. Because of this, workers could get away with demanding almost three times the normal pay for their services. Because the issue of the plague made trading even more dangerous, goods became more valuable and could be bartered and sold for more. With the mix of increased wages and trade value, the economy boomed. In The Making of the West, it is stated that “With more money to spend, people could afford a better and more varied diet that included beer and meat.” On average, people who survived the plague were living healthier lifestyles than those who lived before it.
Many thought that the plague was the wrath of God raging upon the earth. The Church, specifically the Catholic Church, had a huge impact on the daily lives of pretty much everyone in medieval Europe. The Bible is written in latin, and common people were dependent on local clergy to guide them through their lives. Before the Plague had even begun in Europe, the Church was already suffering a decline. The Papacy had moved from Rome to Avignon in 1309 due to violence in the area, which dealt a significant blow to the Church’s power and influence. When Europe was stricken with disease, people wanted answers.