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Black Death Essay, Research Paper

There have been many diseases reported historically such as small pox, measles and typhoid but none were as horrendous as Black death. In order to understand the devastation of this disease we must the effects it had on the political, economical and social structures of medieval Europe. The Black Death first appeared in Europe in 1347 when a boat filled with dead and dying people docked at Messina harbor, north east of Sicily. This boat come from the Orient and within days of its arrival this death ship had spread its pestilence throughout Messina. Although it is doubtful that Black Death and other epidemics were by themselves responsible for the downfall of European society they were houever , the largest contibuting factor.

During the middle ages peiple lived under the feudal system, thid was a system in which the king owned all the land and parceled out large estates to the noblemen. These lords woukd in turn grant parcels of land to peasants who woukd live on and work the land. These peasants woukd pay tyhe lords a large portion of whatever theyt earned, either in food supplies or money. The lords lives very well at the expence of the poverty stricken serfs. Then the plague struck and no one was immune to this disease. The nobility perished at the same rate as the peasants. What nobility that did not die fled to other areas unaffected by the plague. The vast depopulation of the noble class left manors and duties abondoned and subject to infiltration by the peasant class. This new situation did not sit well wiht noble class that remained and hostilities between the nobility and the peasants were severe. The abandoned Government offices became filled wiht dishonest men many of who had selfish motives. These now officials had intntions of feathering thier own nests rather than in rebuilding the hierarchical governement . The advent and reoccurence of Black Death also allowed for a new and powerful govbenmental body known as the Bourgeois. They consisted of the merchabnt and working class of the towns. While the plague had virtually wiped out the previous government, the Bourgeois was instrumental in establising a harmonious , interdependent and orderly governmental body.

The clergy played a large role in European society. Being well educated and literate they had the role of providing divine grace and bureaucratic services to both the nobility and the peasants. Most Europeans accepted the word of the church without question. When the plague struck it became apparent that the Catholic priests could provide no explanation for the reason God permitted such devastation. The priests were unable to restore the people’s belief in religion because of their actions during the plague. What preists that did not flee to wealthier parishes or unaffected areas began to charge inflated prices for their burial services and blessings. People began to question the church and continued to do so even after the plague had run its course. This caused a rift in the Catholic chuch that resulted in the separation of the chuch into different sects and in the sixteenth century the Protestant churches ere established.

The economical changes in Europe were profound. Prior to the plague European economics was such tat it was caplble of supporting a wast population. The technical and agricultural innovations floursihed in Medieval Europe . An increase in arable land, new corps and power souces such as windmills provided Europe wiht an increase in food supplies and emplyment opportunities. The import and export of agricultural goods flourished. This along with the end of the Hundred Years War between England and France resulted in a population growth. The lords were enjoying tremendous wealth at the expence workers. The depopulation cased by Black Death resulted in food and labor shortages but most imprtantly it meant the end of serdom . Lords were then forced to treat their workers better and increase their wages. The lord took the chance of losing his workers to better employment opportunities eleswhere if he did not increase wages or provide better living conditions . Some landlords attempted to force their workers to remain on the land. This only led to peasant revolts. THese revots were spontaneous ald poorly organized rendering them ineffective and easily dissolved by the military. These revolts forced some landlords to leave thir manors and become absentee landlords. The loss of workers, declines in agriculture products and increae in peasant wages meant the end of grain farming Europe’s main commodity. lLandlords were forced to diversify into animal husbandry and specialized crops were grown for feed. There was a greater demand for meat and byproducts such as wool and hides which contributed to Europe’s new and pricnciple textile industry. Black Death was also the cause of Europe’s change in currency. The loss of population hastened Europe’s transition from the barter system to a system of money payment.

Black Death did have a positive effect on European economics. There was a permanent increase in wages paid to the laborers. For the first time in European history members of the working class could afford to wear fur coats, until then only the nobility had the funds for such extravagance. Although Black Death profoundly affected the political and economical stability of medival Europe the effect it had on the social aspect of society was perhaps the strongest.

Prior to the plague the people of Europe were deeply spiritual. It was uncommon to find any families that did not attend church services for spiritual guidance. People believed and accepted the word of the church until Black Death shattered that faith. There was a breakdown in religious authority throughout Europe. Because of the plague people had leave to so as they pleased. They abandoned the restrictive lifestyle dictated by the church and adopted an ” eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die” attitude. They believed that drinking greely was a remedy for the plague. They drank with total diregard for the social norms of medieval Europe. There was no longer any distinction between the lords of the manor and the stranger who wandered in to drink. People woukd do things that they once considered totally immoral and they would abandon their sick and dying.

There was also a breakdown in the chuch’s traditional proactices. These practices disappeared and were replaced by frenzied and superstitious froms of religion. There was the revival of the Ancient Brotherhood of the Flagellants. This was essentially a layman’s cult of repentance and members woukd march across Europe whipping themselves as they walked and prayed. Although this cult was never countenaced by the Catholic Church, many embraced this religious practice. Their marches undoubtedly assisted in the spreading of the plague.

Faced wiht forces beyond their control people searched for an explanation for theis devastating disease, irresponsible Catholic priests provided these explinations, accusing the Jewish community of poisoning the well water. The Jews were not well liked to begin eith as thy were money lenders and were often owned large sums of money by the Catholic population. This, coupled with the priest’s accusatinos resulted wiht entire Jewish communities being wiped out. Some towns didn’t even bother with a formal trial. They just rounded up all the Jews in the community and burned them at the stake.

Black Death caused great pain and suffering for the European population but it did not kill the hman spirit.OPerhaps it was the yearning for happiness or a greater freedom but the plague did not leave the continent in despair. Instead it left a desire for a chanbge for the better. The rebirth of hope that followed the plague is known as the renaissance.

In the years following the plague there was a great awakening in just about every field of endeavor. Although great works of art were still inspired by religion, artists became less concerned with the herafter and concentreated more on immediate human matters. Death became a common theme in art.

The period of hope and optimism that resulted from the plague extended into the sixteenth century and became an era of emerghing nations and of exploration and discovery. It led to the industural revolution and the revolution in science.

Another unexpected outcome of Black Death was the revival of the English language. Since 1066 the language written and spoken by the ruling class had been French. The plague killed so many of the French teachers they had to be replacep by Englishman who taught their own language in the schools. The plague also delayed the colonization of America by several hundred years.

Although Black Death wiped out one third of the European popluation, it did not hit every city at once rather it took on a wave like pattern, traveling from one major city to the next. The pestilence known as Blck Death did not come from the people but rather from the flea infested rat. From this flea come diseases known as the Bubonic, Pneumonic and Septicaemic plague. The symptons of the Bubonic plague were easily recongnizable by the blck colored pus at the point of the flea bite, followed by enlargemnet of the lymph nodes in armpits, groin and neck. Next hemorrhaging occurred causing purplish blotches called buboes, hence the mane bubonic. These hemorrhages produced cell necrosis and intoxication of the nervous system, leading to neurological and psychological disorder. Although this strain was the least toxic it was still highly lethal, killy fifity to sixty percent of its victims. Pneumonic plague was trandmitted directly from person to person through the discharge of bloody sputm either by coughing or sneezing. This strain was less frequent but far more deadly, killing ninety five ot one hundred of the cases . The septicaemeic plague was air borne, and although very rare it was wven deadlier than the rest, death occurred one heundred percent of the time and within one day. The psychological effects of theis disease were felt for genrations. Black Death was a major factor in the middle ages stuctural collapse, with this disease came the collapse of Europe’s plitical structure. Economical prosperity in Europe was non-existant and the social strucres were in mayhem. Anarchy reigned in the three hundred years of Black Death’s rule. Although Eurpe did eventually recover form the crippling effects of Black Death it was never to be the same again.

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