The Black Death caused a widespread death rate over the eastern and western parts of Europe during the fourteenth century. Not only did the Black Death take a devastating toll on human life, it also played an important role in shaping European life in years to come.
The Black Death came in three forms, the bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Each form killed people in its own vicious way. All forms were caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. The most commonly seen form was the bubonic plague. The death rate was thirty to seventy five percent. The symptoms were inflamed lymph nodes, armpits, neck and groin. The victims were subjected to headache, nausea, aching joints, and fever of 101- 105 degrees, vomiting, and a general feeling of illness (The Black Death). Symptoms usually took one to seven days to appear.
The second most common form of the Black Death was the pneumonic plague; the victims often died before they could reach other places. The pneumonic plague mainly attacked the lungs. Symptoms included slimy sputum tinted with blood. (Sputum is saliva mixed with mucus exerted from the respiratory system.) The death rate was ninety to ninety five percent. Symptoms took one to seven days to appear.
The rarest form of the Black Death was the septicemic plague. The death rate was close to one hundred percent. The symptoms were high fever, and skin turning deep shades of purple, due to respiratory failure. Victims usually died the first day the symptoms appeared.
The disease was spread through an infectious fever caused by the Yersinia pestis, passed on by the rat flea. The infection spread to anyone that had contact with the diseased. The infected found themselves pierced by a pain throughout their whole body. Soon after they developed on their thighs or the upper arms a lump the size of a walnut which some people called them burn boils. This then pierced them until the patient violently began vomiting blood. The vomiting of blood persisted without stopping for three days, which didnt give the victims any time to heal their wounds. Swellings continued to expand until they eventually exploded, with death following immediately after. The whole process from transmission to death usually lasted three or four days. The plague was deathly terrifying to have and to witness, the terrible pain and the bizarre appearance both made the plague especially terrifying. People could not only get infected through the transmission of the disease but by talking to the sick touching them or any of their things.
The bubonic plague isnt carried from man to man; a flea carries the bacillus from one person to another. Physicians enforced using appropriate sanitary measures to try and stop the epidemic from spreading. Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in their homes (Black Death www.history.idbsu.edu). No father, son or any relationship dared to enter, but loved ones hired servants with high wages to bury their dead. People fled from each other. Families split apart; brother deserted brother and parents abandoned their children. Plague victims couldnt get magistrates or notaries to witness their wills. Many priests refused to visit the ill and Pope Clement VI granted remission of sin to all who died of the plague because so many were unable to receive last rites (The Great Mortality).
Cities were the hardest hit in Europe and tried to take drastic measures to try and control the epidemic. They walled up houses secluding the healthy along with the sick. In Mulan they ceased the imports of wool and linen. People visiting neighboring towns such as Pistoia, where the disease had taken hold were forbidden to return home and forced to die there. The village Noseley, Leicestershire. Was raised up to prevent the spread of the plague to the manor house. In all these cases the drastic measures succeeded in reducing the number of victims and slowed further spread of the disease.
In Florence Italy, between forty-five and seventy five percent died in a single year, one third died in the first month. Venice Italy, which had kept excellent death records, had sixty percent of the population died over the course of eighteen months. In Avingon England, the death rate was eighty five percent and even higher among their clergy. Clement VI had to dam off the Rhone River so corpses could be laid in it, then let the water flow over.
City populations recovered within a few years because of immigration from the countryside for increase of opportunities. Rural populations recovered slowly though, because peasants left farms for cities. Hardest hit were religious authorities such as priests and friars, they took about three generations to recover. Financial businesses were disturbed as creditors died so the collector wouldnt be able to pay it off after the interest had built higher. There was soon no one to collect from. Unions lost their craftsmen and had no one to replace them with. Mills and other machinery that are used most often in a town might break down and the only one who knew how to fix it was dead.
The Black Death broke out in many places around the world, hit many people and killed them. The disease soon died down in years to come.
Ellis, Elizebeth Gaynor and Anthony Elser. World History: connections today.New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001
The Black Death. http://www.insectia-inspecta.com/fleas/bdeath/Black.html
Black Death. Boise State University, http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/plague/23.html, 1995.
The Great Mortality. http://historymedren.about.com/homework/historymedren/library/black death
The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Robert Mchenry, editor. Vol. 2 Chicago:Britannica Inc, 1992 p163