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In the fourteenth century, plagues swept through Europe, killing a quarter of a million people and recurring approximately five times for nearly a century. It made humankind fully aware of life's brevity and of death's pitilessness. This "Black Death" changed history, placed a twelve-year-old-king on the throne and weakened the Church's grip on the people such that it never regained its full power. Events that would shock future generations occurred daily in this era, when people were so confused, ashamed and helpless that they ignored old customs and religious practices. Pope Clement VI had to consecrate the Rhone River so corpses could be sunk in it, families buried their dead only to have the bodies exhumed a week or two later to make room for more, mass graves were dug outside towns for cadavers to be discarded in. People were blind to the atrocities committed everywhere and accepted them as a typical way of life. (Knox 1) The Black Death is thought to have originated in Asia's Gobi Desert and was brought to Europe by traveling armies in the 1340's. Plague was perhaps the world's first biological weapon: diseased carcasses were catapulted into besieged cities to kill defending troops. Obviously, the plague was indiscriminate, and townspeople, invading soldiers and local militia were all stricken. So this tactic had the desired effect, but it often came at a steep price. (Rice 1) The Black Death was spread by these armies, travelers and especially vermin, specifically fleas. These tiny, ostensibly innocent pests brought about this dark period in history merely doing what they do best. The flea feeds on an infected rat and moves on to a human. Then the flea regurgitates the blood from the rat into the human, infecting the human. The rat dies. The human dies. Anyone in the vicinity was likely to be infected as well, by the afflicted person's fleas. However, no distinction was made between the bubonic plague and the pneumonic plague. The pneumonic plague was a disease of the lungs and was transmitted by bacteria made airborne by coughing or sneezing. The symptoms of the two plagues were very similar, which was probably why they both were referred to as the Black Death. These symptoms included vomiting and spitting of blood, violent pains in the chest, gangrenous inflammation of the throat and lungs, tumors in the groin, armpits and neck, and purple spots (caused by subcutaneous hemorrhages). The tumors eventually burst, and the victim died soon after. The process of contraction, degeneration and death took only three or four days. (The Black Death 1) Astronomers attributed this pandemic to a conjunction of Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in the sign of Aquarius that had occurred in 1345. This conjunction was said to have caused the earth to exhale poisonous vapors. The popular opinion was that God was punishing sinners, or that Satan was laying waste to humanity. Many officials and priests suspected the truth, though, that the Black Death was a mere Earthly disease. (Knox 1) Despite knowing what caused the plague (or supposedly knowing), this epidemic was so rapidly spreading, merciless and mysterious that nobody could think of ways to prevent infection. Basically the only surefire way to stay healthy was to stay away from all sick people. This was obvious to authorities, who often quarantined the ill in their homes. People wore masks when around the ailing and didn't touch them. Pope Clement VI at Avignon sat between two large fires to breathe pure air. "Educated men" came up with a few preventions themselves: "No poultry should be eaten, no waterfowl, no pig, no old beef, altogether no fat meat... It is injurious to sleep during the daytime... Fish should not be eaten, too much exercise may be injurious... and nothing should be cooked in rainwater. Olive oil with food is deadly... Bathing is dangerous..." Modern medical science has told us these are ridiculous, and some even hazardous. Maintaining a healthy diet made one less susceptible to sickness, as did bathing. (Knox 1) Unfortunately, even the effective actions did nothing to impede the Black Death. Doctors, lawyers, and clergy were at high risk and were killed simply by doing their jobs. The few remaining that held these professions finally refused to see the sick. Debtors died, and their creditors had nobody to collect from. Guilds lost their practically irreplaceable craftsmen and didn't have the time to train new workers. King Alfonso XI died, as did the wife of King Peter IV, Eleanor. Joan, daughter of King Edward III, passed away on her way to wed Alfonso's son. King Edward III died later, and the heir to his throne was only twelve. (Rice 1) The short-term labor shortage was extremely severe, and professionals, who already charged high prices, were paid even more for their services as they became more and more scarce. Peasants, who up to that time had received little or nothing for their labor, were now able to charge their employers. Landowners stopped freeing their indentured servants as workers' numbers rapidly diminished. The poor began to insist that they be treated better, as the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381 and the Catalonian Rebellion in 1395 indicate. Due to this and the sudden decrease of consumers, there was an abundance of merchandise, so prices dropped. Higher wages and cheaper goods actually raised Europe's standard of living. (Knox 1) Although the poor were economically better off, the middle class was not. Merchants importing goods tried to use their political power to prevent their economic position from going under. Craft guilds' services were restricted to one town because they didn't wish to steal customers from neighbors. So they used tariffs to protect their business from the merchants, and even used brute force on occasion. Although Europe's economy stabilized in a few years, its culture and society were not so fortunate. A people who had already been afraid of death were now terrified by it and obsessed with it. The Italian chronicler Agnolo di Tura wrote, "The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing... It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who didn't see such horribleness can be called blessed..." All of Europe felt as he did, as the tomb sculptures, paintings, and poetry from that period show. Tomb sculptures became very morbid at this time. These monuments, which had earlier depicted a lord in his armor and wearing his sword and shield, now frequently displayed a worm-riddled corpse wearing rags with parts of the skeleton visible. Paintings took a similar turn: the danse macabre, which shows men and women being lead to the Dance of the Dead by their future corpse, was painted on the wall of the Cemetery of Innocents. It shows skeletons mingling with living men in daily happenings. A girl at a harvest festival is dancing with Death, workmen at a construction site labor alongside skeletons, corpses are carried to the hunt by skeleton horses, a cadaver receives an infant from its baptism. Many similar paintings appeared later. (Knox 1) The population's emotional state was in complete chaos. People, afraid for their futures, were murderous, cruel, thieving and treacherous. No one had any idea of how to get Europe to its feet again. A few tried to restore old customs by venerating the "old ways," but upon seeing it was no use, began idolizing the past to the point of ridiculousness. People grew to be cynics and became jaded, as is indicated by an unknown Flemish historian: "For, in Jan. of the year 1348, three galleys touched at Genoa, driven by a fierce blast from the East, horribly infected and laden with divers spices and other weighty goods. When the men of Genoa learned this, and saw how suddenly and irremediably they infected other folk, they were driven forth from that port by fiery arrows and divers engines of war. For no man dared touch them. Nor could any man deal with them in merchandise..." The world, when it saw it was unable to help itself, became unwilling to. Religion was by far the most affected field, however. Christianity has never recovered from the Black Death. Seeing that no help from God was forthcoming, people turned to mysticism, witchcraft and Satanism more and more as the plague got worse. Gilles de Rais, patron of the arts, one-time companion of Joan of Arc and Marshal of France, actually sold himself to the devil. He sacrificed probably a hundred children in the rituals performed in his castle. Others blamed God, Jews or a vengeful neighbor for the disaster. Fanatics wandered from town to town, begging God's mercy and pushing others to do likewise by beating themselves with clubs and chains and even crucifying themselves. They were generally frowned upon, however. (The Black Death 1) Other extremists punished others instead of themselves, beating, torturing and murdering any Jews they came across. Because they attracted so much attention, Jews were often driven from cities and towns. Some towns actually defended their Jews and even took others in, but the flagellants attacked these places so fiercely they were forced to give in. This only deepened the rift between some Christians and Jews. Satan and God must not have heard their disciples, though, because the plague appeared again about five times into the 1400's. Fortunately, each pandemic lasted only two years, and each death toll wasn't nearly as high as the first. Still, the pre-plague population of Europe wasn't reached again until the start of the 16th century. Rural communities couldn't support themselves, and migrated to the cities. So the cities recuperated faster, due to this influx of people and the recovering birth rate. People moved back into rural areas as cities became overcrowded. (Knox 1) Although Europe's population was on the mend, it's other aspects such as religion, culture, politics and more were forever changed. The plague was geographically limited to Europe and parts of Asia, but it affected the whole world, which had never experienced such an inexplicable horror before.
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An essay on the Historical Impact of the Black Plague
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An Essay On The Historical Impact Of The Black Plague

Words: 1696    Pages: 6    Paragraphs: 19    Sentences: 119    Read Time: 06:10
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              In the fourteenth century, plagues swept through Europe, killing a quarter of a million people and recurring approximately five times for nearly a century. It made humankind fully aware of life's brevity and of death's pitilessness. This "Black Death" changed history, placed a twelve-year-old-king on the throne and weakened the Church's grip on the people such that it never regained its full power.
             
             
              Events that would shock future generations occurred daily in this era, when people were so confused, ashamed and helpless that they ignored old customs and religious practices. Pope Clement VI had to consecrate the Rhone River so corpses could be sunk in it, families buried their dead only to have the bodies exhumed a week or two later to make room for more, mass graves were dug outside towns for cadavers to be discarded in. People were blind to the atrocities committed everywhere and accepted them as a typical way of life. (Knox 1)
             
              The Black Death is thought to have originated in Asia's Gobi Desert and was brought to Europe by traveling armies in the 1340's. Plague was perhaps the world's first biological weapon: diseased carcasses were catapulted into besieged cities to kill defending troops. Obviously, the plague was indiscriminate, and townspeople, invading soldiers and local militia were all stricken. So this tactic had the desired effect, but it often came at a steep price. (Rice 1)
             
              The Black Death was spread by these armies, travelers and especially vermin, specifically fleas. These tiny, ostensibly innocent pests brought about this dark period in history merely doing what they do best. The flea feeds on an infected rat and moves on to a human. Then the flea regurgitates the blood from the rat into the human, infecting the human. The rat dies. The human dies. Anyone in the vicinity was likely to be infected as well, by the afflicted person's fleas.
             
              However, no distinction was made between the bubonic plague and the pneumonic plague. The pneumonic plague was a disease of the lungs and was transmitted by bacteria made airborne by coughing or sneezing. The symptoms of the two plagues were very similar, which was probably why they both were referred to as the Black Death. These symptoms included vomiting and spitting of blood, violent pains in the chest, gangrenous inflammation of the throat and lungs, tumors in the groin, armpits and neck, and purple spots (caused by subcutaneous hemorrhages). The tumors eventually burst, and the victim died soon after. The process of contraction, degeneration and death took only three or four days. (The Black Death 1)
             
              Astronomers attributed this pandemic to a conjunction of Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in the sign of Aquarius that had occurred in 1345. This conjunction was said to have caused the earth to exhale poisonous vapors. The popular opinion was that God was punishing sinners, or that Satan was laying waste to humanity. Many officials and priests suspected the truth, though, that the Black Death was a mere Earthly disease. (Knox 1)
             
              Despite knowing what caused the plague (or supposedly knowing), this epidemic was so rapidly spreading, merciless and mysterious that nobody could think of ways to prevent infection. Basically the only surefire way to stay healthy was to stay away from all sick people. This was obvious to authorities, who often quarantined the ill in their homes. People wore masks when around the ailing and didn't touch them. Pope Clement VI at Avignon sat between two large fires to breathe pure air.
             
              "Educated men" came up with a few preventions themselves: "No poultry should be eaten, no waterfowl, no pig, no old beef, altogether no fat meat. . . It is injurious to sleep during the daytime. . . Fish should not be eaten, too much exercise may be injurious. . . and nothing should be cooked in rainwater. Olive oil with food is deadly. . . Bathing is dangerous. . . " Modern medical science has told us these are ridiculous, and some even hazardous. Maintaining a healthy diet made one less susceptible to sickness, as did bathing. (Knox 1)
             
              Unfortunately, even the effective actions did nothing to impede the Black Death. Doctors, lawyers, and clergy were at high risk and were killed simply by doing their jobs. The few remaining that held these professions finally refused to see the sick. Debtors died, and their creditors had nobody to collect from. Guilds lost their practically irreplaceable craftsmen and didn't have the time to train new workers. King Alfonso XI died, as did the wife of King Peter IV, Eleanor. Joan, daughter of King Edward III, passed away on her way to wed Alfonso's son. King Edward III died later, and the heir to his throne was only twelve. (Rice 1)
              The short-term labor shortage was extremely severe, and professionals, who already charged high prices, were paid even more for their services as they became more and more scarce. Peasants, who up to that time had received little or nothing for their labor, were now able to charge their employers. Landowners stopped freeing their indentured servants as workers' numbers rapidly diminished.
             
              The poor began to insist that they be treated better, as the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381 and the Catalonian Rebellion in 1395 indicate. Due to this and the sudden decrease of consumers, there was an abundance of merchandise, so prices dropped. Higher wages and cheaper goods actually raised Europe's standard of living. (Knox 1)
             
              Although the poor were economically better off, the middle class was not. Merchants importing goods tried to use their political power to prevent their economic position from going under. Craft guilds' services were restricted to one town because they didn't wish to steal customers from neighbors. So they used tariffs to protect their business from the merchants, and even used brute force on occasion.
             
              Although Europe's economy stabilized in a few years, its culture and society were not so fortunate. A people who had already been afraid of death were now terrified by it and obsessed with it. The Italian chronicler Agnolo di Tura wrote, "The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who didn't see such horribleness can be called blessed. . . " All of Europe felt as he did, as the tomb sculptures, paintings, and poetry from that period show.
             
              Tomb sculptures became very morbid at this time. These monuments, which had earlier depicted a lord in his armor and wearing his sword and shield, now frequently displayed a worm-riddled corpse wearing rags with parts of the skeleton visible. Paintings took a similar turn: the danse macabre, which shows men and women being lead to the Dance of the Dead by their future corpse, was painted on the wall of the Cemetery of Innocents. It shows skeletons mingling with living men in daily happenings. A girl at a harvest festival is dancing with Death, workmen at a construction site labor alongside skeletons, corpses are carried to the hunt by skeleton horses, a cadaver receives an infant from its baptism. Many similar paintings appeared later. (Knox 1)
             
              The population's emotional state was in complete chaos. People, afraid for their futures, were murderous, cruel, thieving and treacherous. No one had any idea of how to get Europe to its feet again. A few tried to restore old customs by venerating the "old ways," but upon seeing it was no use, began idolizing the past to the point of ridiculousness. People grew to be cynics and became jaded, as is indicated by an unknown Flemish historian: "For, in Jan. of the year 1348, three galleys touched at Genoa, driven by a fierce blast from the East, horribly infected and laden with divers spices and other weighty goods. When the men of Genoa learned this, and saw how suddenly and irremediably they infected other folk, they were driven forth from that port by fiery arrows and divers engines of war. For no man dared touch them. Nor could any man deal with them in merchandise. . . " The world, when it saw it was unable to help itself, became unwilling to.
             
              Religion was by far the most affected field, however. Christianity has never recovered from the Black Death. Seeing that no help from God was forthcoming, people turned to mysticism, witchcraft and Satanism more and more as the plague got worse. Gilles de Rais, patron of the arts, one-time companion of Joan of Arc and Marshal of France, actually sold himself to the devil. He sacrificed probably a hundred children in the rituals performed in his castle. Others blamed God, Jews or a vengeful neighbor for the disaster. Fanatics wandered from town to town, begging God's mercy and pushing others to do likewise by beating themselves with clubs and chains and even crucifying themselves. They were generally frowned upon, however. (The Black Death 1)
             
              Other extremists punished others instead of themselves, beating, torturing and murdering any Jews they came across. Because they attracted so much attention, Jews were often driven from cities and towns. Some towns actually defended their Jews and even took others in, but the flagellants attacked these places so fiercely they were forced to give in. This only deepened the rift between some Christians and Jews.
             
              Satan and God must not have heard their disciples, though, because the plague appeared again about five times into the 1400's. Fortunately, each pandemic lasted only two years, and each death toll wasn't nearly as high as the first. Still, the pre-plague population of Europe wasn't reached again until the start of the 16th century. Rural communities couldn't support themselves, and migrated to the cities. So the cities recuperated faster, due to this influx of people and the recovering birth rate. People moved back into rural areas as cities became overcrowded. (Knox 1)
             
              Although Europe's population was on the mend, it's other aspects such as religion, culture, politics and more were forever changed. The plague was geographically limited to Europe and parts of Asia, but it affected the whole world, which had never experienced such an inexplicable horror before.
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