The Black Death
HST 102


The Bubonic Plague, more commonly referred to as the "Black Death," ravaged Europe between the years 1347 and 1350. During this short period, 25 million people, one third of Europe\'s population at the time, were killed. Thousands of people died each week and dead bodies littered the streets. Once a family member had contracted the disease, the entire household was doomed to die. Parents abandoned their children, and parent-less children roamed the streets in search for food. Victims, delirious with pain, often lost their sanity. Life was in total chaos. The Plague was a disaster without a parallel, causing dramatic changes in medieval Europe. Coming out of the East, the Black Death reached the shores of Italy in the spring of 1348 unleashing a rampage of death across Europe unprecedented in recorded history. By the time the epidemic played itself out three years later, anywhere between 25% and 50% of Europe\'s population had fallen victim to the pestilence.


Primarily fleas and rats transmitted the Black Death. The stomachs of the fleas were infected with bacteria known as Y. Pestis. The bacteria would block the "throat" of an infected flea so that no blood could reach its stomach, and it grew ravenous since it was starving to death. It would attempt to suck up blood from its victim, only to disgorge it back into its prey\'s bloodstreams. The blood it injected back, however, was now mixed with Y. Pestis. Infected fleas infected rats in this fashion, and the other fleas infesting those rats were soon infected by their host\'s blood. They then spread the disease to other rats, from which other fleas were infected, and so on. As their rodent hosts died out, the fleas migrated to the bodies of humans and infected them in the same fashion as they had the rats, and so the plague spread


In the text, there were several ideas on how the Black Death actually developed. The first document, written by Ibn Khaldun, described the plague in the best detail. The most common belief was that God had sent the plague and that it was his punishment for the sins humankind had committed. Even innocent people, such as infants, had to suffer for the horrible crimes of others. The church was quick to condemn gambling, excessive drinking, the immodesty of women and the laziness of peasants. Guilt lay upon every man\'s heart. Therefore it was only natural that the first measures taken against the plague were the confession of all sins and prayer for forgiveness. Learned men and women, who did not believe that the plague was sent by god or superstitions, attempted to come up with a more logical explanation. Some thought that a “mysterious poisonous cloud” gradually moving across Europe brought the plague. Finally, the most extreme explanation involved the changing of seasons and the conjunctions of the planets. The weather had been affected by the altered seasons, which was in connection to the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter. The hot and wet planet of Jupiter, when combined with the anger of Mars, created pestilent vapors. The wind on Earth then contributed to the spread of the plague.


There are quite a few ways for any disease, such as the plague, to spread so rapidly. First, many victims to the plague would receive it within immediate contact to any person or belongings to that person would be infected. Clothes, possessions, and anything used by the infected person were a risk to any healthy person. Second, there was no cure for the disease. Many people were hired as doctors with little or no training and they had neither the technology nor the understanding of the disease to cure it. The Black Death would be contracted and most times people would die within three days of receiving it. Depending on which of the three types of the plague a person contracted, a person had anywhere from twenty-four hours to three days to live. This meant that anyone in contact with them might not know they are infected unless extreme side effects are shown right away. Finally, the plague was initially brought in by travelers from other countries and quickly spread through any contact with friends, families, and even animals were not safe from this