The Bubonic plague and the “Black Death” was a terrible period of time for almost the whole population of the world. It brought many struggles to the European countries and the Jews. This research paper reveals the historical events and conditions in which people lived during the pandemic. It explains the main causes of the disease and why people were so far from the recovery.
The Bubonic Plague; the Black Death of 1348-1350.
The Bubonic Plague was the incredible and terrible disease in its scope that ravaged and devastated Europe for 300 years. During this period of time, it killed more than 25 million people. This number was a third of the population of Europe at that time. It was known as a "Black Death". It was the most terrible punishment of the nature of all time. It was more severe and worse than any war. It was not familiar with borders or any diversity in nations. It was more cruel and painful for its victims than the earthquake. It was more terrible than a volcanic eruption or an approaching hurricane, because it was unknown to nature. Nobody was ready for it and no one could run away from it. It was called “Black Death” due to the prior invasions of black rats. This merciless disease kept in its slavery the whole western civilization for several generations.
The “Black Death” pandemic plague occurs predominantly in the bubonic form and held in the middle of the 14th century in Asia, Europe and North Africa. There is a theory that the main source of its spread was located in the Gobi desert. The start to its spread gave the abrupt climate change in Eurasia that was caused by a small ice age. Firstly it came to the China and India. Then, it came to Europe with the Mongol army and trade caravans. However, there is no clear evidence that tells us about the origin and spread of the disease. It was a disease that did not leave any visual marks on the victims. “Plague being a disease that does not leave any marks on the human skeleton, the study of the history of plague is entirely dependent on the written information. It is not possible to penetrate deeper into the past than allowed by the history of writing and available documentation” (Benedictow, 2004).
It was clear that pandemic demonstrated the complete helplessness of medicine of that time and impotence of religious institutions in the fight against the plague, which resulted in the revival of pagan cults and superstition. The influence that the disease made on the religious authorities led to the persecution of the potential infected people and distributors of the disease. It has brought to the Europe the raise of the religious fanaticism. “Black Death” left a huge mark on the history of Europe, affected the economy, psychology, culture, and even the genetic fund of the population.
Except the climate factor of the spread of the disease, there was also social-economical factor. There were many epidemics and constant starvation in Europe. Europe also held many military conflicts. There was a war in France during almost one century. Italy and Spain continued to solve their internal conflicts by military actions. Europe has poverty, homelessness and a large number of refugees from war-torn areas. The movement of huge armies and a brisk trade in the researchers said important factors that contributed to the rapid spread of the pandemic. The necessary condition for the spread and the maintenance of the pandemic is the relatively high population density. The cities of the middle ages were compressed on all sides by the city walls. They served as a protection during the siege and also sheltered suburban population. The density of the population was above the minimum. Unfortunately, it was enough to sustain the epidemic. People were forced to live in a common room with the full ignorance of the prevention rules. Such conditions also have served as significant factors in maintaining the pandemic. As for personal hygiene, the body care was considered sinful. That is why people rarely washed. The sanitary condition of the cities were terrifying, by today's standards. The narrow streets were littered with debris, which were thrown into the street right out of the houses. Without a doubt, one of the key roles in the pandemic played a huge number of rats.
The causative agent of plague is a gram-negative bacterium “Yersinia pestis”. In sputum plague bacillus may persist for up to 10 days. It could be alive for several weeks on the laundry and stained clothing of the patient. It can survive in the bodies of animals and people who died from the plague from the beginning of autumn to winter. Low temperature, freezing and thawing does not kill the parasite. However, it is sensitive to various chemical disinfectants. The natural carrier of the plague is the flea “Xenopsylla cheopis”. It is the rodent parasite. As a result of rampant epizootic, it remained without the owner and forced to settle for human blood in order to survive. “Fleas infected with plague carry the bacteria in their digestive systems. When they bite a human, the bacteria are released into the human’s body and travel to the lymph nodes” (Person & Straley, 2011).
At the time of “Black Death” medicine in Christian Europe was in deep decline. This was largely due to the primitive religious approach to all areas of knowledge. The doctor had the duty to demand a response from the patient, if he confessed and received communion of the holy mysteries. The doctor did not take any measures as long as the patient does not fulfil their religious duty. The talented physicians were under the constant risk to be caught by the Inquisition.
There were several protection measures against the spread of the disease. The one measure was to run from the infected area and wait in the safe place the end of the pandemic. It was required to run as far as possible, as quickly as possible and stay away from the contaminated area long enough to be convinced that the danger had passed. People who wanted to save their lives left their homes and went to other places. In order to clean the air of the city, people drove the herd of the animals that clean the atmosphere by their breathing. People put a saucer of milk to the room of the infected person in order to absorb the infection. In order to disperse the contaminated air, rang bells and firing cannons. Doctors recommended carrying and often sniffing floral bouquets, a bottle of perfume, scented herbs and incense. Doctors also advised to abstain from the consumption of poultry and wild waterfowl, eat soups and broths, not to sleep past dawn, and, finally, to refrain from intimacy with women.
One of the most effective ways to combat the plague was a tradition to set in the ports the quarantine for arriving ships. The ships were ordered within 40 to remain at anchor. This prevents the spread of plague in the city caused by sailors. However, it was often that ships during this time became deserted as the plague-infected team died out to a single man.
The best minds of the middle Ages were not mistaken about the possibility of curing the plague patients. However, the arsenal of the medieval doctor, which included drugs of plant or animal-based, as well as surgical instruments, was completely helpless against the epidemic. In such conditions, seniors of the city paid the service to the so-called “plague doctors” whose job was to stay in the city until the end of the epidemic and treat those who have become its victim. As a rule, this dangerous work was taken by the mediocre doctors, unable to find a better job, or young graduates of medical schools, who were trying to make a name in a risky way.
There were taken some administrative measures in order to reduce the pandemic. Venice was the first European country that has been able to organize their citizens to avoid the chaos and looting. In the cities, there was organized a special committee. Before ships entering the harbour, they were subjected to inspection. In order to maintain an order in the city, there was banned wine trade and closed all bars and taverns.
The real victims of the “Black Death” were the Jews, who spread through the many different European cities at that time. The common people saw in them the cause of the epidemic. In 1321, the French Jews escape the punishment by the exile. However, during the “Black Death”, they suffered with a great religious force. The maddened crowds in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain staged bloody mob trials, sometimes with the encouragement or acquiescence of the authorities. Nobody cared that pandemic was killing both Christians and Jews with the same power.
"Black Death" had significant impact on the demographic, social, economic, cultural and religious implications. It even affected the genetic composition of the population of Europe. The consequences of the plague had serious affect on the Golden Horde, which resulted in a sharp decline in population among other things to political instability, as well as technological and cultural regression. The period of the “Black Death” and the Bubonic plague were dark days for the world. The number of the population was declining with the great speed. The sanitation, as the only weapon that could eradicate the plague was applied in 1666, when the plague suddenly disappeared.