Paper on Black death

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black death




Black Death

The most sever epidemic in human history, The Black Death ravaged Europe from 1347-1351.
This plague killed entire families at a time and destroyed many villages. The Black Death
had many effects beyond its immediate symptoms that contributed to the crisis of the
Fourteenth Century. This plague not only took a devastating toll on human life, but it
also played a major role in shaping European life in the years to follow. The Black Death
divides the central and the late Middle Ages. This horrible catastrophe that occurred in
1348, swept through Europe causing numerous changes.

“The Black Death erupted in the Gobi Desert in the late 1320’s.” This plague originated
there and spread outward in every direction. In the autumn of 1347, twelve ships arrived
in Messina, a port on the island of Sicily. Usually the people of Messina were eager to
see the exotic products these merchants’ ships would bring from Caffa, on the Black Sea.
This particular time the people found something astonishing. Instead of silk, perfumes,
and spices, these ships carried a strange and destructive disease that would eventually
change Europe forever.

City officials found very few people alive on these ships when they ported Messina. Dead
bodies littered the decks and the ships reeked of decaying flesh. On the deceased, they
found large black swellings covering the bodies. These officials who inspected these
ships feared that the disease that had slaughtered the sailors would spread to Messina.
This fear led to the decree that no one, or any piece of merchandise was to leave the
ships. They would not even allow the sick sailors to leave the ships or even get medical
treatment. It is thought that the people of the ships, who were living in Caffa during
the summer of 1347, were exposed to this terrible disease while fighting the Tatars. The
Tatars were Mongolian warriors who attacked the city of Caffa and had the city contained
for months. They seemed to have the advantage and were expected to seize the city, until
they suffered an unexpected blow that defeated their army. This unexpected blow was the
plague. The plague broke out within their army and they were forced to retreat. The
Mongolian warriors believed the disease was a curse put on them by the people in Caffa.
Out of hate and trying to get revenge, the Tartars catapulted the dead bodies of the
plague victims over the walls of Caffa. The plague soon began to spread after the Tatars
retreated and the people of Caffa realized that the only way they were to survive was to
flee the area. They boarded merchant ships and set sail for Italy. These ships where
later found by the Missena city officials. The city officials could not prevent the
disaster that would follow. Within days the disease spread not only within the city, but
also the surrounding countryside. An eyewitness tells what happened:

Realizing what a deadly disaster had come to them, the people quickly drove the Italians
from their city. But the disease remained, and soon death was everywhere. Fathers
abandoned their sick sons. Lawyers refused to come make out wills for the dying. Friars
and nuns were left to care for the sick, and monasteries and convents were soon deserted,
as they were stricken, too. Bodies were left in empty houses, and there was no one to
give them a Christian burial.


The wealthy nobles since of monetary security had the advantage over the poor. The rich
could usually flee the towns and cities, where the plague raged unmercifully, and escape
to their castles and villas in the country. In the country, there were usually less
people and cleaner reducing the chance of the dirty infested rats to enter the country
homes. When this disease hit the coast of Italy, people had no idea what they were
encountering. All they knew was that masses of people were dying. Some thought it was
due to the influence of celestial bodies. Others thought it was put upon them by the
wrath of God getting them for their iniquities or sins. Even though they had absolutely
no earthly idea where this disaster was coming from, they soon learned to recognize the
symptoms.

Blood from the nose was a manifest sign of inevitable death; but in men and women alike it
first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumors in the groin or the armpits, some
of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg, some more, some less, which
the common folk called gavoccioli. From the two said parts of the body this deadly
gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently;
after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their
appearance in many cases on the armor thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, then minute
and numerous. And as the gavocciolo had and still were an infallible token of death.


By the following August, this disease had spread as far as England. This is where people
began to call this disease the “Black Death,” due to the black sores that was found over
the entire body after contacting the disease.

The Black Death is an acute, infectious, contagious disease that affects rodents and
humans alike. It is caused by a short, thick, gram-negative bacillus, Yersina pestis.
In humans, plague occurs in three different forms known as the bubonic plague, pneumonic
plague, and septicemic plague. Bubonic plague is the most common form. The name derives
from the appearance of buboes, or enlarged, inflamed lymph nodes in the groin or armpit or
on the neck. Bubonic plague is transmitted by the bite of insects that are normally
found on rodents, and that seek new hosts when the original host dies. The bubonic plague
usually would slay a person within five days. Pneumonic plague gets the name because it
infects the lung and is often transmitted by “droplets sprayed from the lungs and mouth of
infected persons; the infection may spread from the lungs to other parts of the body.”
This in return causes septicemic plague. The pneumonic plague would take the life of a
person within three full days. The septicemic plague infects the blood. “Septicemic
plague may also be initiated by direct contact of contaminated hands, food, or objects
with the mucous membranes of the nose or throat.” The septicemic plague that infects the
blood, would often exterminate someone within hours. When this plague struck it murdered
people with extreme speed. The Italian writer Boccaccio said that its victims often “ate
lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”

The Black Death struck during a period of time when Europe was facing many difficulties.
The European economy was on the decline. “It was approaching the limits of expansion,
both on its frontiers and in reclaiming land from forest and swamp.” Europe was also
feeling oppression from foreigners (the Mongols and the Ottomans). These foreigners
disrupted many of the trade routes causing many areas to drop into depression. The
climate was another problem people in Europe were facing. “The overall climate was
changing, with cooler and wetter weather creating lower crop yields even as the population
was increasing.” Since there was a shortage of food, people began to starve and have
problems with malnutrition. The Church was facing many different problems as well. First
of all, many people felt there were numerous amounts of scandals occurring within the
Church. The popes resided at Avignon and not at Rome. The Church was also unable to
contain heresy in England proving its weakness. The Hundred Years War was transpiring
causing many political difficulties. The Black Death exacerbated the problems and
difficulties. Preexisting problems and difficulties caused the effects of the plague to
seem twice as horrible.
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