Free «The Black Death» Essay Sample


Bubonic plaque is one of the deadliest diseases that ravaged Europe between the year 1347 and 1352 and resulted in many deaths close to 25 million people and it was primarily spread to human beings through fleas from rats having the bacteria Yersinia Pestis. Those infected with the disease showed a number of symptoms including swollen lymph nodes that would turn black, victims coughed blood, high fever and excessive blood clotting. With its virulent nature, the causal agent (Yersinia pestis) was spread through water droplets from cough or sneeze, infected blood and body fluids (Cantor, 2002). This lead to the rapid spread of the disease from Italy to its neighbors and by 1352, almost a third of the population was dead resulting in economic problems, higher cost of living to the survivors, and the disruption of the faith-based social structure.

Impacts of the disease

In the initial years before the plaque, Europe had been on record for its peace and prosperity but the growing population began to strain the existing resources. This period for instance saw the great cathedrals being constructed but the contraction of wealth, increase in violence, crime and the war that previously fought by France and Britain made the whole Europe population vulnerable to the plaque. The very large population initially thriving was beginning to disintegrate physically, socially and politically and this left them at the mercy of the fast spreading disease. The disaster affected all aspects of live and some of the impacts include; depopulation, undermining of the religious structure, economic upheaval and; destruction of the feudal system of the middle class.

As has been indicated, the disease claimed almost a third of Europe’s population since anybody who had contracted the disease was certain to die. The physician at that time had not found out the explanation of the disease. People of all calibers died in the rural areas but the most affected was the urban areas since the disease was contagious. Architects, masons, artisans and government officials all died in the four-year nightmare. Countries in the Mediterranean including Italy and Spain recorded the highest mortality since the plaque existed there for the four years while Germany and England were less affected. Within the four years, the disease started from Asia, through Italy and France to Spain and Hungary. Shortly after that, it started again from England, through Scotland and Denmark, to the Greenland leaving the whole continent perishing. The other factor that accelerated mortality in the region is the persecution of the Jews and aliens who were burnt to death because people believed they were to blame for the menace (Kelly, 2006).

Due to the plaque, the religious sector suffered a big blow due plaque because it lost its credibility the spiritual ability and its direction over the people. The people needed answers, explanation and cures for the disease but church could not provide any of those and some believed it was punishment from God. The priests abandoned their spiritual duties and fled leaving the people praying to God at thee mercy of the deadly disease. This made the survivors to revolt against the church at the end of the disaster. It is important to note that learning during this period was limited because the scriptures were mostly in Latin and it is only the clergy who would access it for the people. This was an inequality to the general population and it was further elevated by the fact that the clergy failed in their religious duties of visiting the sick. They only practiced holiness in the confines of their rooms and they even failed to carry out the funeral ceremonies thus making the people to lose confidence and before long afterwards the atheism took root among the survivors.

The economy was not spared either by the wrath of the bubonic disease evidenced by the lack of labor to work in the farms.  The greater population died and those left were to attend to the patients and had no time to go to the farms. As the population dwindled, communication became rare and people could no travel at all since they became more isolated from each other thus reducing knowledge sharing and resources (Cantor, 2002). Domesticated animals went back to the forest while some died due to lack of care and crops in the farm perished severely. In the long run, the economy plunged to a zero-level and it was not until the sixteenth century that the economy was fully recovered.

Apart from the effect on agriculture, the lack of labor and the consequential high demand led to the collapse of the feudal system and the rise of the middle class. Initially, wages were usually set by the government, the church and employers with intentions to demean the workers. However, this drastically changed because there was shortage of labor and skills which left many fields uncultivated and good unattended to. Forests began to reverse the centuries’ achievement and the existing currency at the time, property and land titles meant nothing. This ultimately transferred wealth from the affluent individuals to the poor especially those who were willing to work. The prices of food and land drastically went down and the survivors had the opportunities to establish themselves more than just subsistence and instead of only providing menial labor, they opted to be industrious and establish their own business and farms to counter the effect of food shortage.

Social, economic and political fall-out that ensued

Besides the immediate impacts, the bubonic disease left a legacy of what was to be remembered from generation to generation. After its end in 1352, Europe as mentioned earlier took a lot of time up to the 16th century before its population recovered fully. On the social aspect for instance, religion was greatly affected since most people faith in God since they questioned themselves how He could have allowed such a disaster to happen. The people resorted to other forms of worship with the aim of trying to avert the disease the disease. The population was not spared either and after the end of the plaque, most people favored the boys to a great extend since they were the once who carried the name of the family (Herlihy and Cohn, 1997). The social structure was disrupted too since all people became equal. It is of important to note that even the monasteries and priest died since most of them cared for the sick. The peasants who were less important to the upper class of the society soon became important and with their great awareness, they easily rose up the social ladder thus relegating the nobles from returning to their pre-plaque status. The overall mood of the people became melancholic with all the deaths that surrounded them.

Racism and discrimination emerged after the plaque evidenced by the persecution of the Jews, and the lepers who were burnt in broad daylight because they were suspected to have been the cause of the disaster. The other aspect of social life that was greatly affected was the music, how they spent leisure time and their civilization in general. In leisure for instance, the Black Death for instance sneaked slowly into the recreational time of the people and some even used the abundant deaths to make jokes. Art was not spared either and written languages were lost since the church was left alone (Herlihy and Cohn, 1997). The way people made their carvings changed drastically with coffins having pictures of corpses with flattering sicknesses. Some even went to the extend of making paintings that showed human being socializing with skeletons while others made sculptures that indicated worms feeding the deceased. The artists of that time abandoned their old ways of painting and idolized Christianity and those who were depressed painted pictures of sad people.

In relation to economy, long term effects of the plaque persisted for a long period of time since it affected all sectors. During this period, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and it was drastically affected in the sense that labor and valuable skills were lost. Those who survived and had skills became valuable than the rich men and the society began to give an ear to the poor. Peasants and artisans demanded more pay for their services while serfs left their and stopped planting crops. This at some point led to hunger and countries prohibited the exportation of any food making countries like England and suffer severely. The governments of that time condemned the black market and measures were put in place to ensure so but it further led to piracy. Pirates would attack ships and take the goods it carried and were later to be sold in the black market (Gottfried, 1985).

The other effect on the economy was the introduction of price control to curb the skyrocketing food prices.  The increase in food prices is basically due to the increase in the purchasing power of the survivors due to their high wages and at some point, the landlords tried to introduce wage control so that the same price was paid for labor just like the pre-plaque period. However, this did not work owing to the fact that there was shortage of labor. In some situations however, landlords were able to keep the peasants bound to the land and a mixture of coercion was exercised including physical intimidation and charging of excessive fees to purchase freedom. In France, there existed labor legislation that permitted increment of wages by a third though there is no evidence that the laws were followed. Inflation also existed because of the increased purchasing power of the laborers and this resulted in to another problem such that, people were not able to buy so many goods like pre-plaque period. Furthermore, over fishing was condemned (McClain, 1988).

The effect off bubonic disease in the politics of Europe cannot be left behind keeping in mind that they were got unawares and had no fast response to tackle the menace. As mentioned earlier, the disease did not spare any royal family since most of them took care of the sick and resulted in lack of law and order in the earlier years of recovery. The crime rate drastically increased like looting, rape and piracy (DeWitte, 2009). The government took part in the formulation of laws that were aimed at restoring the economy to its normalcy and curb inflation and skyrocketing food prices. In addition to this, government was forced to adapt to the rude survivors who abandoned land and refused to pay taxes which led to decline in revenue. The net effect of this was collapse of the free military service in countries like France and few of them were also trained; which a feudal obligation from its citizens was. The government furthermore faced a revolution from peasant when it failed to help in solving issues with landowners thus leading to apolitical turmoil.

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The Black Death disease remains to be the deadliest disease in the human history because it claimed almost a third of Europe population within a period of four years. The causal agent being the bacteria within two hosts, the rat and the flea made it hard to curb the spread of the disease and it even became worse when it mutated to the lung type of infection. It is however important to note that some cities like Venice and Milan tried to put some quarantine measures to curb the spread of the disease (Rigby, 2000). Milan for instance is a city whose officials built walls on the houses of the infected people and isolated them from the general population. Venice on the other hand isolated visitor ships on an island and this ensured the spread of the disease was under control and this made the two cities to register fewer deaths than other cities which had done nothing. The disease is seen to have reshaped the political, social and economic structure of Europe since its effect lasted up to the sixteenth century.


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