A silent killer. It appeared out-of-the-blue and decimated a third Europe’s citizens. The black plague was a terrible epidemic that no one has ever seen and we will hopefully never again see it. What was the impact of a plague outbreak of such magnitude on society?
The bacterium Yersinia pestis, also known as the zoonotic bacterium, caused the black plague. This bacterium is transmitted by fleas or small mammals. The plague has been reported in the USA in seven cases annually, with an additional 1,000 to 21,000 cases globally. Modern medicine is not able to treat all of these infections. Each can be transmitted to the other. For example, if you are septicemic you may become bubonic. Bubonic disease is known for its large, red lymph nodes called buboes. These buboes form in the area of the bite and are reddish-colored, swollen, lymph nodes. Infected people will experience symptoms such as fever, headaches, chills, weakness, and fatigue within 2-6 days. This is often caused by a flea bite. Bubonic disease was half-fatal (bbc.co.uk). Although it was less common and more easily spread, pneumonic malaria is a much more serious form. The symptoms of pneumonia include fever, headaches and weakness. Inhaling infected drops can lead to pneumonic plague. Untreated septicemic or bubonic plague can also spread to the lungs and cause pneumonic disease. Pneumonic or septicemic plague is the most severe form of the illness. Pneumonic Plague caused approximately 90% death. The plague can spread through the body and cause severe illness. Some people may still be affected by the plague if they have eaten infected food or drink (who.int). Septicemic symptoms included, among others, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and extreme bleeding. For some, it was caused by coughing. However, for others, internal bleeding or blood loss via urination could cause severe complications. Nearly all victims of septicemic infections died. It was almost always fatal. This included carrying aromatic herbs around, burning them, and not bathing. Many cities would have large fires to repel mirasma. Because many people lived close to each other and did not have modern health care, the plague was particularly deadly. Because of the environment was unhealthy, the diseases spread easily and quickly, even in communities that were close together (brittanica.com). Many people waited to see if they would be affected by the plague. Plague Doctors were born as a new profession. Plague Doctors had the potential to manage the city’s casualties and did not need any formal training to become a “doctor”. Plague doctors wore leather suits that covered their entire body in animal fats, wax and were protected from the bad elements. A leather mask with a beak was also worn with aromatics being placed in the beak to combat mirasma (allthatsinteresting.com). Plague doctors, despite their frightening appearance, were treated with respect for their attempts at comforting the sick. Others would be held hostage or taken to ransom for their help. Plague doctors were not medically trained and would do anything they thought might cure the disease. These remedies were more effective in spreading the disease than they were in curing it. Many of those who survived were forced to flee because of the unknown killer. Others, such the Islamic faith, were able to remain because they believed the plague was God’s will. Of course, the richest and most powerful people were able escape. This left those with little resources vulnerable to the disease. Although escape was possible, one could not expect to be in good health. The bacterium can take several days for symptoms to appear so many people could have been infected long before they fled. Some regions tried to prevent the spread by restricting travel throughout the country. Italy would forbid any ships from infected areas. To further protect themselves, anyone entering the country was quarantined for 30-40 days. The strong influence of churches in communities helped to stop the spread. While some tried to restrict travel to infected areas, another rule was established to prevent people from getting in contact with infected dead bodies. Clement VI was the pope 1342-1352. He had said that anyone could confess to God, even women, and be forgiven. This was an important decision at the time as only the clergy could perform such actions. Many were shocked by this declaration and began to question the actions of the church. Large problems arose in medieval Europe’s church-centered communities due to the high than average mortality rates of clergy. The church was faced with many unfilled positions and began to hire anyone who could help, even the less educated. As many people saw the church as another failing leader, this created tension. Many were led to believe that God had sent plague to them as punishment for their sins. Anti-Semitism began to rise in Europe during medieval times. This was due to the widespread belief that Jews had poisoned the water and food supplies to kill the “ungodly Christians”. According to Brittanica.com, Jews were either exiled, killed or banished. Their rules of cleanliness also helped prevent Jewish deaths from occurring due to illness. Because Jews are believed to be the source of the plague, the Torah has established rules for cleanliness. This means that they are less likely to get infected. Flagellants were known to whip and beat their victims in large crowds and public places, creating a public spectacle (ivypanda.com). Many would beg the plague doctors for their canes to beat them. The practice continued until the pope ended it. Labor shortages were common as a result. Overworked land was abandoned without anyone to plough or harvest it. Landowners had to pay more for labor, and ensure better working conditions. Overcrowded and overused land has now been desolated, creating an abundance of farmlands and housing. This led to lower food and housing prices which allowed the lower classes to live better lives. These events led to the end of feudalism.
These changes caused discomfort for those in authority. While many efforts were made to bring society back to pre-plague times, they were often met by violent riots. Many historians believe the black disease may have been responsible for the rise of society from the dark ages to modernity. Yersinia Pestis, a mysterious killer that appeared out-of-the-blue, decimated nearly a third Europe’s entire population. Some places even whole cities. It was a murderous epidemic that affected everyone, regardless of their wealth or status.