Реферат: The Black Plague Essay Research Paper The

The Black Plague Essay, Research Paper

The Tragedy of the Black Death

Imagine yourself alone on a street corner, coughing up bloody mucous each time

you exhale. You are gasping for a full breath of air, but realizing that is not possible, you

give up your fight to stay alive. You’re thinking, why is this happening to me? That is how

the victims of the Black Death felt. The Black Death had many different effects on the

people of the Middle Ages. To understand the severity of this tragic epidemic you must

realize a few things about the plague. You should know what the Black Death is, the cause

of the plague, the symptoms, the different effects it had on the people, and the preventions

and cures for the plague.

The Black Death, also known as the Black Plague or the Bubonic Plague, which

struck in 1349, and again in 1361-62, ravaged all of Europe to the extent of bringing

gruesome death to many people of the Middle Ages. The Black Death struck in 1349, and

again in 1361-62, but was restricted just to Europe (Rowse 29). It was a combination of

bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic plague strains (Gottfried xiii) that started in the east

and worked its way west, but never left its native home. One of the things that made the

plague one of the worst was that there were outbreaks almost every ten years (Rowse 29),

but still restricted to Europe. It is thought that one-third to one-half could have possibly

died by the plague (Strayer and Munro 462), with some towns of a death rate of up to 30

or 40 percent (Strayer and Munro 462). Very few who were infected with the plague

actually survived more than one month after receiving the disease (Strayer and Munro

462). The Black Death was an incredible event that effected everyone on either a

physicalor emotional level, or both. The Black Death was more terrible, and killed more

people than any war in history (Strayer and Munro 462). The plague was so horrible and

terrifying that people said it made all other disasters in the Middle Ages seems mild when

comparing it to the Black Death (Gies 191). There have been many disputes over what

caused the Black Death, but only one is supported with the most evidence. It is thought

that on October of 1347, a Genoese fleet made its way into a harbor in northeast Sicily

with a crew that had “sickness clinging to their very bones” (Gottfried xiii). The sickness

this crew had, was not brought by men, but the rats and fleas aboard the ship. The harbo

rtried to control the sickness by attempting to quarantine the fleet, but it was too late

(Gottfried xiii). Within six months of the docking of that very fleet, half of the region had

either fled the country, or died. That fleet, along with many other fleets along the

Mediterranean Sea brought the greatest natural disaster to the world (Gottfried xiii). The

infested rat, called the black ship rat, was carried in the baggage of merchants on board the

ships traveling all over the Mediterranean (Norwich 30). They didn’t know it, but it was

the people that actually spread the disease across the land. The plague spread in a great arc

across Europe, starting in the east in the Mediterranean Sea, and ending up in northwest

Germany (Strayer and Munro 462). It is incredible that the plague hit Europe several

times, but still no one understood neither the causes nor the treatments of the epidemic

(Strayer and Munro 462). There was another cause that some people strongly believed

brought the disease into their world. Doctors at the University of Paris claimed that on

March 20, 1345, at one o’clock in the afternoon, a conjunction of three higher planets

Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars caused a corruption of the surrounding air, which made the air

become poisonous or toxic (Gottfried 110). This is a highly unlikely theory unless you are

coming from a basis of Astrology. Another explanation of the plague that scientists gave

was environmental factors. These scientists thought that there were many earthquakes that

caused toxic fumes to come from the center of the earth (Gottfried 110), which, again,

brought contaminated air for the people. Certain historians have wondered if the plague

could have been caused by overpopulation of the continent, but they are not completely

convinced (Hoyt and Chodorow 632). Some people, possibly out of desperation, turned

their violence on the Jews and blamed them for the cause of the plague (Strayer and

Munro 463). Whatever the cause was, you could tell from looking in a persons eyes that, ”

above every person hung the terror of the Black Death” (Strayer and Munro 476).

Although the Black Death was one of the largest epidemics ever recorded, it did not have

many visible symptoms. The actual symptoms varied in different parts of the continent.

The most ordinary symptoms were black tumors or boils on your neck, and the coughing

up of blood (Zenger). One thing about coughing up blood that made the plague even

worse, was that when you coughed up blood, everyone in the room was susceptible to the

disease (Zenger). This is because when the person coughed up the blood, the bacteria went

airborne and infected the person of the closest proximity (Zenger). This allowed the plague

to spread more quickly and easily. The Black Death had more than just physical effects,

but more extensive effects over the courseof 25 years. Such as physical effects, social and

religious effects, economice ffects, agricultural and commercial effects, effects on

architecture, and effects on the future. For two generations after the plague, there was

almost no increase in the population of Europe (Strayer and Munro 462), while the rest of

the world increased in population. After the plague had passed, Europe seemed to suffer

from a case of collective shell-shock (Strayer and Munro 463), this made it look like all of

Europe was hit by a deadly stun gun, but the stun never wore off. What scared the people,

was that the Black Death killed more people than a hostile army and gave its victims no

chance to fight back (Strayer and Munro 462). The Black Death had many different social

and religious effects on the common people of Europe. Some people dreaded the time

whenthe plague would come, and some people just sat back, ate, drank, and were merry

just as though they had never heard of the plague (Strayer and Munro463). Although all

the people suffered, the peasants suffered the most. This is because they lived in such

unsanitary conditions and had the least care. In many places whole villages of peasants

were wiped out completely (Hartman235), and in less than one month. The Black Death,

along with seven other plagues and diseases of the Middle Ages, was considered

contagious (Durant1002). Because they were contagious, a victim of any plague or disease

was forbidden to enter a city unless under separation (Durant 1002). Many people actually

thought that the Black Death was a punishment to society because they were wicked (Hoyt

and Chodorow 596), and because they did not repent for their sins. Although the people

with stood many effects, the social consequences were surely less striking (Rowse 29).

For not only were the people struck in many ways, but they were also astounded, terrified,

and bewildered of this secretive beast lurking in every place they go (Gottfried xiii). Some

people think that the plague contributed to the moral disintegration of European society

(Strayer and Munro 462). Many people sat around and faced the fact that they would

eventually be taken in by the plague, and some tried to do something about it, religiously.

Many people, religious or not, tried to taker efuge in Godly practices. Some tried easing

their conscience through “exaggerated penances” (Strayer and Munro 463), or others

doubled their devotions and encouraged revivals (Strayer and Munro). Varied people

“filled their hearts with unbearable anguish about the Sorrows of Mary and the sufferings

of Christ,” yet these same people filled with anguish flocked to executions and tore each

other apart in their frequent civil wars (Strayer and Munro 463). Almost all people thought

they would live through the plague if they gave into the surge of religious hysteria. Since

people were dying left and right, it should be expected that there would be a decrease in

available labor. So now there are half as many peasants to do the work, and the same

amount of fields. This amounted to too much work to do, and little peasants to do the

work (Hartman 235). This would obviously not work out. Everything was being ruined,

overrun, or neglected because of this sudden, but expected shortage of workers (Hartman

235). The peasants saw this happening and they knew they could receive something

goodout of this. The laborers also saw that they were on demand, and so they demanded

higher wages (Hartman 235). Now that wages rose, prices rose along with it (Hoyt and

Chodorow 635). The mortality rate of the region not only produced a labor shortage, but a

sudden increase in the income per capita (Hoyt andChodorow 635). When the plague had

ended, half of the workers on the estates of the nobles in England disappeared (Hartman

235). You could see that the Black Death shook the entire agricultural and commercial

structure of the west (Gies 226). The decrease of construction in the 14th century could be

seen along with the cathedrals started in the 12th and 13th centuries and never finished

because of the plague (Durant 894). The effects on the future were not as bad as the

effects the 14th century people experienced. The European population steadily declined

after 1350 for the next century (Gottfried xiii). It is said that “chronic depopulation

characterized the 14th and 15th centuries”(Gottfried xiii). In 1351, it was calculated that

the total number of dead in Europe was approximately 23, 840,000 people (Gottfried xiii).

That is agreat decrease considering that there were an estimated 75,000,000 people living

n Europe before the Black Death struck (Gottfried xiii). There were almost no known

preventions or cures for the Black Death except a few ideas that don’t always help or don’t

help at all. Some doctors instructed the sick to stay by fires and to drink as much as

possible (Zenger). One thing that kept the disease from spreading more rapidly was

keeping anyone infected with a disease out of the cities (Durant 1002). After the plague

had become extremely serious,the town’s people exterminated the old black ship rat that

carried the disease (Rowse 29). This was there last attempt at getting their old lives back,

but it was too late for that. Aren’t you glad we are living in the 20th century,and not the

14th century!? The Black Death certainly had one of the greatest effects on the world in all

areas, and was also one of the greatest changes for the people of the Middle Ages. If we

want change in our lives, does it always have to be the bad things that bring us back into

reality? I should hope not. It seems that bad or depressing situations give us a grasp on

what is really important in our daily lives, and that is what we all need.

Durant,Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.

Gies, Josephand Frances. Life in a Medieval City. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.

Gottfried,Robert. The Black Death. New York: The Free Press, 1983.

Hartman, Gertrude. Medieval Days and Ways. New York: The Macmillan Company,


Hoyt, Robertand Stanley Chodorow. Europe in the Middle Ages. New York: Harcourt

BraceJavanovich, Inc., 1976.

Norwich, John. Britain’s Heritage. New York: TheContinuum Publishing Company, 1983.

Rowse, A.L… The Story of Britain. GreatBritain: British Heritage Press, 1979.

Strayer, Joseph and Dana Munro. The Middle Ages. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,

Inc., 1959.Zenger. TheBlack Death. California: Timeline Series, 1989.

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