ORIGINSThe Black Death began in the Gobi Desert in the late 1320s, but the plague bacillus was already active long before that.The cause of the disease to start spreading is not definite, however, Earth’s climate began to coolin the 14th Century and many people believe this could have triggered the disease.
THE DISEASE AND HOW IT’S SPREADThe medical term for the Black Death is BubonicPlague. It is a bacillus, an organism, most usually carried by rodents. Fleas infest the animal, and these fleas movefreely over to human hosts spreading the disease by passing on the blood from the rat into humans.
SYMPTOMS Symptoms of the plague include high fevers, aching limbs, and vomiting of blood. The most characteristicsymptom is a swelling of the lymph nodes. The swellingbulges and is easily visible; its blackish coloring gives the disease its nickname, The Black Death. The swellings continue to expand until they eventually burst, with death following soon after. The process, from first symptoms of fever and aches to final expiration, lasts three or four days.
THE PEOPLE’S REACTION The reaction from public officials, and from manychurchmen, was that this calamity was not the vengeance of God upon a sinful world, despite their strong religious beliefs. Cities were hit the hardest and tried to take measures to control an unfamiliar epidemic. For example, in Milan, city officials immediately walled up houses found tohave the plague, isolating the healthy in them along withthe sick. In Venice, all incoming ships were isolated on a separate island.
MEDICAL MEASURESVarious concoctions of herbs would be administered torelieve the symptoms because there was no known cure.Headaches were relieved by rose, lavender, sage and bay. Sickness or nausea was treated with wormwood, mint, and balm. Lung problems were treated with liquoriceand comfrey. Vinegar was used as a cleansing agent as it was believed that it would kill disease. Bloodletting, or the draining of blood, was commonly thought to beone of the best ways to treat the plague. The blood that exuded was black, thick, and smelled disgusting.
AVOIDANCEThe only action that was effective was quarantineor staying far enough away where no fleas could reach you. One pope, Pope Clement VI, sat between twolarge fires to breath pure air. The plague bacillus actually is destroyed by heat, so this was one of the few effective measures taken.
HISTORICAL TIMING The European economy was already in difficulties. Itwas approaching the limits of expansion, and the arrivalof the Mongols and the Ottomans had disrupted trade routes, which led certain areas of Europe intodepression. Also, the overall climate was changing, with cooler and wetter weather creating lower crop yieldseven as the population was increasing. The Church wasin poor shape as well, and the Holy Land had been lost in the 1290s; efforts to recover it had been dismal failures.
THE EFFECTS • Prices and Wages rose • Greater value was placed on labor • Farming land was given over to pasturing, which was much less labor- intensive • This change in farming led to a boost in the cloth and woolen industry • Peasants moved from the country to the towns • The Black Death was therefore also responsible for the decline of the Feudal system• People became disillusioned with the church and its power and influence went into decline • This resulted in the English reformation
RESOURCES http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/black-death.htm (Slides 6 and 9)http://boisestate.edu/courses/westciv/plague/12.shtml (Slides 2,3,4,5,7, and 8)