Today, scientists understand that the Black Death, now known as the plague, is spread by a bacillus called Yersina pestis. (The French biologist Alexandre Yersin discovered this germ at the end of the 19th century.) They know that the bacillus travels from person to person pneumonically, or through the air, as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats. Both of these pests could be found almost everywhere in medieval Europe, but they were particularly at home aboard ships of all kinds–which is how the deadly plague made its way through one European port city after another. Not long after it struck Messina, the Black Death spread to the port of Marseilles in France and the port of Tunis in North Africa. Then it reached Rome and Florence, two cities at the center of an elaborate web of trade routes. By the middle of 1348, the Black Death had struck Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon and London.
Today, this grim sequence of events is terrifying but comprehensible. In the middle of the 14th century, however, there seemed to be no rational explanation for it. No one knew exactly how the Black Death was transmitted from one patient to another–according to one doctor, for example, “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick”–and no one knew how to prevent or treat it. Physicians relied on crude and unsophisticated techniques such as bloodletting and boil-lancing (practices that were dangerous as well as unsanitary) and superstitious practices such as burning aromatic herbs and bathing in rosewater or vinegar.
Meanwhile, in a panic, healthy people did all they could to avoid the sick. Doctors refused to see patients; priests refused to administer last rites. Shopkeepers closed stores. Many people fled the cities for the countryside, but even there they could not escape the disease: It affected cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens as well as people. In fact, so many sheep died that one of the consequences of the Black Death was a European wool shortage. And many people, desperate to save themselves, even abandoned their sick and dying loved ones. “Thus doing,” Boccaccio wrote, “each thought to secure immunity for himself.”
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The disease spread fast and covered the territory from China to England and the ultimate western part of Europe, covering almost entire Europe within several years. The disease was a true mystery for Medieval people, whereas the medicine was under-developed to cope with such a disease as the Black Death, which was presumably a plague. The development and spread of the disease was fast and provoked the depopulation of Europe. At the same time, the Black Death had not only a devastating demographic impact but also the disease had a disastrous economic impact on Europe as well as other countries of the world and, what is more, the disease contributed to the consistent change of social relations, re-evaluation of the lifestyle and values of people living in the pandemic-stricken Europe and other countries of the world. In such a way, the Black Death affected the demographic situation in Europe and other countries of the world, changed socioeconomic relations and provoked re-consideration of basic values and beliefs of people living in that time.
The emergence of the Black Death in Europe was associated with the spread of the pandemic from the East. In fact, the origin of plagues is not clearly identified but the most likely region of the origin of the plague was China or the nearby territory. The plague spread from China westward via the Silk Road. In the course of time, the plague reached Crimea and Constantinople. The latter was one of the major trade centers between the West and the East. As a result, Constantinople became the place, where merchants and travelers from Europe and Asia as well as Africa came across. Goods from the East moved to Europe through Constantinople mainly and so did the plague. In fact, it is through Constantinople and moved further throughout Mediterranean countries. From the Mediterranean, the plague spread further throughout Europe affecting more and more countries. In such a way, the plague spread throughout Europe in the course of several years and affected the large population of Europe causing numerous deaths and depopulation of Europe.
At the same time, symptoms of the disease were different in the East and in the West. To put it more precisely, the nose bleeding in the East was the major symptom, which marked the upcoming death of patients. In stark contrast, nose bleeding was not a symptom of the Black Death in Europe. Instead, Europeans suffered from lumps in the groin or armpits. After the appearance of the lumps, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Ill people died within three days. In such a way, the disease was extremely dangerous and people died fast, whereas the contamination meant virtually certain death to ill persons.
In fact, the medieval medicine had come unprepared to resist the Black Death. People had no idea of contagious diseases and the epidemic spread fast. People buried deceased unprotected, whereas the burial was insufficient to protect from the spread of the disease. Towns and cities were full of decaying filth, which contributed to the rise of the rat population, which also contributed to the fast spread of the plague in Europe. People did not how to treat the disease and they did not know how to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Moreover, they did not even view it as a mere disease. Instead, they believed the Black Death was the punishment from the part of God, which people have to take.
The response of the society to the Black Death was characterized by consistent changes in the society. European society was devastated by the disease. Towns and cities were depopulated and suffered from the shortage of food. The large share of the rural population died out too. European society faced the threat of starvation. Peasants’ labor became extremely important and landlords had to attract peasants by higher wages. As a result, peasants started to move from their villages to other villages being attracted by lords that undermined the main principle of the feudal system where peasants were tied to the land that belong to landlords. The Black Death started to wreak havoc in Europe and the society came unprepared to the pandemics.
In such a situation, religion, which was the main source of salvation for people, still played an important part in the life of people and explanation of the disease. Religious leaders of both Muslim and Christian worlds viewed the Black Death as the punishment for sins committed by humans. Christians viewed the Black Death as the result of their sins, whereas Muslims viewed the Black Death as the result of the improper performance of their obligations as Muslims. In fact, religious leaders provided believers with the divine origin of the Black Death. At the same time, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church attempted to present the Black Death as the disease that came from the East because the sacred land was occupied by Muslims. Instead, Muslims believed that the plague was a sort of punishment of those who were not true believers.
In fact, the religious views were extremely important for Europeans to the extent that some people took extreme forms of religious rites to protect themselves from the plague. In this regard, it is worth mentioning flagellants, who were people, who wanted to show their love to God by whipping themselves, hoping that God would forgive them their sins and that they would be spared of the Black Death. In such a way, they believed they could protect themselves from the plague through whipping themselves. This was a sort of self-punishment to obtain the forgiveness of God.
At the same time, the Black Death provoked the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which resulted in Jewish pogroms. Jewish pogroms were the response to the Black Death because Europeans believed Jews were responsible for the spread of the disease. Europeans believed that the Jewish minority brought the plague. In this regard, the lifestyle of Jews and their involvement in trade was probably the major factors that justified the belief of Europeans that Jews brought the plague to Europe.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, the Black Death was the pandemic that had brought huge devastation to Europe as well as other parts of the world. The plague swept away a considerable part of the population and caused consistent socioeconomic and socio-cultural changes. The Black Death had revealed the full extent to which human society was vulnerable to pandemics and to which human society was unprotected.
February 6, 2015 |Free Essay Sample Papers|Tags: pandemics