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The Black Death
The Black Death was a plague that carried a disease that ravaged its
way through the world, eventually causing economic, political, and cultural
disruptions. It came like a murderer in the night, when no one was expecting it.
This mysterious disease first attacked the people living near the Black Sea in
what is now called Southern Ukraine. It came without mercy, like a warrior
coming for revenge. It struck, and within days hundreds of people fell ill.
The first symptoms were severe headaches and redness of the eyes.
These were followed by inflammations of the tongue, hoarseness and a hacking
cough. Then came severe intestinal upsets, including vomiting and acute
diarrhea. Temperatures rose, and at the fevers height the body broke out with
reddish spots. By the third day, the lymph nodes in the sufferers” groins, neck,
and occasionally the armpits began to swell. Eventually the swelling would
increase from the size of a hazelnut to the size of walnut, then to the size of a
hen’s egg. The swelling would bulge out making it easily visible; its blackish
color giving the disease its name: The Black Death. The swellings would
continue to get bigger and extremely painful causing the victim to vomit blood.
Eventually the swelling would burst, and the victim would die soon after. The
whole process, starting from the first symptoms to the final expiration would last
as little as 3 days to as long as 9 days. It was a terrible and excruciating disease
that was given the title of the Bubonic Plague, a medical term.
The swelling that the victims received became known as buboes, the
Greek word for groin, boubon. Therefore giving the disease its official name: the
Bubonic Plague. There were three forms of the plague: Bubonic, Septicaemic,
and pneumonic. The Bubonic plague was the main disease that tormented the
people of the Black Sea region, but there was another disease that inflicted the
people also. It is called Pneumonic. The Bubonic plague as well as some form
of Pneumonic plague was at work destroying the lives of innocent people during
those awful years.
The Bubonic Plague is a disease that infects the lymph system. It is
usually fatal (60%), but today doctors have drugs that can cure it. The disease is
bacillus, an organism, usually carried by rodents, primarily rats. Rats carried this
deadly disease, but they did not spread it. The fleas that infest the animals did.
When the flea feeds off of the rat the bacteria in the rats blood infects the flea.
The bacteria is known as Yersinia Pestis (Y. Pestis). This bacteria would block
the “throat” of the infected flea so that no blood could reach its stomach.
Therefore the fleas grew ravenous since they were starving to death. When
they would attempt to suck blood up from their victims, they would have to
disgorge it back into their prey’s bloodstream, only now the victims blood was
mixed with Yersinia Pestis (Y Pestis). Therefore the pattern of infection is this:
the rats begin with the disease, they spread it to other rats before dying from the
disease. The fleas that infest the rat feeds off the rat, and they become infected
with the disease. When the rat dies the flea has to move to a new rat or perhaps
even a human. Therefore the disease gets spread to the human hosts.
There are two other varieties of the plague: septicaemic plague and
pneumonic plague. Septicaemic plague occurs when the bacteria infects the
bloodstream and then spreads to other parts of the body. Pneumonic plague
occurs when bacteria infects the lungs. Pneumonic is especially dangerous
though because it can be transmitted through the air by sneezing and coughing.
Both of these two are nearly 100% fatal. These two were evident during the
Black Death, but the Bubonic plague was the main disease that infected the
people of the Black Sea region.
The Black Death left a great impact economically. Cities were hit hard by
the plague. Financial businesses were disrupted because as debtors died the
creditors found themselves without recourse. Everyone died so their was no one
to collect money from. Construction projects stopped for a time or were
abandoned all together. Guilds lost their craftsmen and could not replace them.
Mills and other special machinery would break down, and the only man in town
who had the skill and knew how to repair it would have died in the plague.
Therefore towns would advertise for specialists who could do the jobs of men
who died, offering high wages. The labor shortage was severe because of all
the men dying, and consequently wages rose. Because of the mortality, there
was an oversupply of goods, therefore prices dropped, the price of everything
became cheap because people were so afraid of death. Effects in the country
were just as severe. Farms and entire villages died out or were abandoned
because surely survivors would not stay only to die too. Animals were left to
roam the abandoned villages because there was no one to go after them or
collect them. Whole families died, with no heirs to take on the houses, the
houses stood empty. Labor shortage was also a problem, so landlords stopped
freeing their serfs. There were fewer peasants to be had. Peasants in many
areas began to demand fairer treatment or lighter burdens. There were many
revolts which all showed how seriously the mortality of the plague had disrupted
the economic and social relations.
The plague touched everyone, rich and poor alike. The plague left
Cultural disruptions also. Priests died, so no one could hear confession.
Bishops also died, and so did their successors, even the successors successors
died. The loss of so many lives brought despair to everyone everywhere.
People would ask, why would God do this, is it a punishment for something we
have done wrong? The people saw so many die and no longer carefully thought
about death, and when their time was coming. They believed that the end of the
world was at hand. The plague shattered peoples’ faith. Priests sacrificed their
lives to help the sick and dying, while others fled to isolate themselves. Whether
the priests stayed or fled, it became apparent that none of them could explain
why God had permitted such devastation. Although, after the worst of the plague
was over, survivors felt the need for religious belief and hoped that their faith in
God and the church might be restored. But after the plague many of the priest
who had fled went to other towns and cities in search of wealthier parishes.
Despite all that had happened the church still remained to be one of the most
powerful forces. However, it never regained the complete authority it had
enjoyed before the plague had tore apart most peoples’ religious ways and
The plague had no permanent effect on the course of politics, but it did
take its toll. Parliaments were adjourned when the plague struck, though they
were reassembled. The effect at local levels was more severe, city councils
were ravaged. Whole families of local nobles were wiped out. Courts were
closed down and wills could not be carried out. However new courts were
reconvened. The legal mess caused by so many deaths was eventually sorted
out, and political life went on. Respect for the law dwindled and crime soared.
No one expected to live long enough to be brought to trial and punished.
So many people died. The plague was like a plague of gnats, in this case
fleas uncontrollably killing almost everything in its path. It was a terrible disease
of agonizing pain with little hope of survival. A huge amount of victims died
everyday. There was no one to bury them, so bodies were left dead in the
streets, in their beds, or wherever the infected died. No one was able to look
after the sick anymore. People were just left to die. Although some people did
survive. Those few lucky people who did survive were not left untouched though,
some were left with terrible scars, some lost their eyesight, while others lost their
memory. The bubonic plague did not go away. It still exists everywhere in the
world. It is still quite common among rodents, rats of course, but squirrels,
rabbits, and skunks as well. It is still widespread in some places, but there is a
cure for it. The plague is still very much with us.
The plague tore its way through many countries destroying many lives, it
could not be stopped. Population decreased, and because of the tremendous
amount of deaths, many problems and disruptions resulted. Economy fell.
Religion was abandoned, but grew even stronger following the plague. Politics
were suspended, but were later carried on. Some good came out of the plague,
not much, but some. For instance, today, we have a treatment for it. Although,
the disease does spread rapidly, therefore it is severely important that we catch it
instantly when it decides to emerge once again. There was never a single
epidemic disease as overwhelming as the Black Death. But it cannot be
disputed, by turning the world upside down, the Black Death helped pave the
way for a new beginning.
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