THE BLACK PLAGUE 1347 - 1351 “Like Black Smoke” & “A World Turned Upside Down”
WHAT IS THE PLAGUE? The global epidemic, or "Black Death," that most associate with medieval Europe actually began in central Asia in the early 14th century, probably near China's Gobi Desert. It then spread through China, killing approximately 35 million people. For reasons unknown (perhaps global cooling allowed it to thrive), the plague began a massive outbreak in all directions that eventually affected most of the world. It spread along Chinese trade routes and reached Europe in October 1347 when a fleet of Genoese merchant ships from Caffa landed in Sicily.
HOW DID IT SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE CONTINENTS? 1348 Cities Infected January Genoa, Marseilles March Florence April Avignon June Paris August Dublin, York December London 1349 January Vienna February Strasbourg May Norway 1350 June Hamburg, Stockholm
HOW DID PEOPLE GET THE PLAGUE? INFECTED FLEAS Septicemic & Bubonic – Fleas, humans, and rats served as hosts for the disease. The bacteria (Yersinia pestis) multiplied inside the flea blocking the flea's stomach causing it to be very hungry. The flea would then start voraciously biting a host. COUGHING, SNEEZING ON OTHERS Pneumonic plague : It was transmitted through droplets sprayed from the lungs and mouth of an infected person. In the droplets were the bacteria that caused the plague. The bacteria entered the lungs through the windpipe and started attacking the lungs and throat.
The Disease Cycle Flea drinks rat blood that carries the bacteria. Flea’s gut clogged with bacteria. Bacteria multiply in flea’s gut. Flea bites human and regurgitates blood into human wound. Human is infected!
HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED? The 200-250 million people died, with a death rate of 33%, may seem staggering, actual death rates for certain cities were even greater. A 33% death rate was the average throughout Europe; because cities hold the greatest concentrations of people, they were hit hardest. The average death rate in European cities, estimated at 50%, meant that so many died, there were not enough people left alive to bury the dead.
HOW DID THE PLAGUE AFFECT EUROPE AND ASIA? It affected Europe's population and also its economy. Changes in the size of civilization led to changes in trade, the church, music and art and many other things. The very social, economic, and political structure of Europe was forever altered.
POPULATION The Black Death killed off a massive portion of Europe's population. The plague is more effective when it attacks weakened people and Europe at the time was already weakened by exhaustion of the soil due to poor farming, the introduction of more sheep which reduced the land available for corn, and persistent Scottish invasions.
THE ECONOMY Valuable artisan skills disappeared when large numbers of the working class died. Therefore, those who had skills became even more valuable than the rich people. The society structure began to change giving formally poor laborers more say.
THE ECONOMY The economic structure of land-based wealth shifted. Portable wealth in the form of money, skills and services emerged. Small towns and cities grew while large estates and manors began to collapse. The peasants and artisans demanded higher wages.
POLITICS & POWER One tiny insect, a flea, toppled feudalism and changed the course of history in Europe. The demand for agricultural workers gave survivors a new bargaining power. Workers formerly bound to the land could now travel and command higher wages for their services. In addition, people left rural areas and migrated to cities for higher wages. Serfs seeking liberation from tilling their lord's land were told by decree and statue to return to their master's duties. The poor people saw so much death they wanted to enjoy life. Serfs began to leave their land and not engage in the planting of crops.
FARMING During the plague farmers left their farms because they were afraid they would get the Black Death and die. Since there wasn't very many farmers to make food, the price of food went up during the plague. In agriculture, if the plague struck a town in summer, there were not enough laborers to harvest crops in the fall. If it struck in the winter, there were not enough laborers to plant in the spring.
ANIMALS Unattended crops and stray animals died of starvation because of the lack of care. Several domesticated animals began to roam the forest.
LITERATURE Boccaccio said that the victims, "ate lunch with their friend and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.“ Written language was almost lost and whole churches were abandoned.
A MACABRE LITTLE DITTY “A sickly season,” the merchant said, “The town I left was filled with dead, and everywhere these queer red flies crawled upon the corpses’ eyes, Eating them away.” “Fair make you sick,” the merchant said, “They crawled upon the wine and bread. Pale priests with oil and books, bulging eyes and crazy looks, dropping like the flies.”
“The cause lay in some constellation. “First they sneezed,” the merchant said, “And then they turned the brightest red, Begged for water, then fell back. With bulging eyes and face turned black, they waited for the flies.”“Then they began to die.” “I came away,” the merchant said, “You can’t do business with the dead. “So I’ve come here to ply my trade. “You’ll find this to be a fine brocade…” And then he sneezed……….!
ART People's attitudes towards music and art changed as they began to see the depression surrounding them. The horrific nature of the Black Death was reflected in the realistic depictions of human suffering and carnage as well as the symbolic use of the skeleton. Carving was changed. Coffins had pictures of corpses on the lid, usually showing a very flattering likeness of the body inside wearing their best clothes. Some of these dated around 1400 showed bodies with about half of their flesh and shredded garments. A few of the sculptures showed worms and snails munching on the diseased. Painting was effected too. There are a number of paintings containing people socializing with skeletons. These paintings were made on a powerful person's command, and called "dance macabre". Artists abandoned old ways of painting things. They were so depressed by the death that surrounded them that they began to paint pictures of sad and dead people.
LEISURE The Black Death crept slowly into the recreational time of people no matter how much the rich attempted to avoid it or how little time the poor had for recreation. Even the abundant death was used for laughter. Funeral processions were used as jokes. It got to the point where deaths were ignored altogether. Citizens looked for causes and the developmentally delayed, deformed and crazy people outside town were the perfect candidates. Bored? Go toss some stones at the witch and help to stop the plague.
CHILDREN Ring around the rosy: rosary beads give you God's help. A pocket full of posies: used to stop the odor of rotting bodies which was at one point thought to cause the plague, it was also used widely by doctors to protect them from the infected plague patients. Ashes, ashes: the church burned the dead when burying them became to laborious. We all fall down: dead.
HALLOWEEN People called "Bechini" pillaged homes, murdering and raping people. They dressed in red robes with red masks and only their eyes showed. The doctors used to have to wear special masks in order to get near the patients. The masks kind of made the person wearing it look like a human with a birds head wearing a hat. It was a long robe reaching down to the person's feet with eye holes cut out. Where the person's mouth would be, there was a long "beak". On the head there was a hat tied on. This is where we got the mask part of Halloween.
IS THE PLAGUE AROUND TODAY? MODERN PLAGUE VICTIMS An average of 10-15 cases per year have been reported during the last few decades. One of the largest animal foci of the plague worldwide is found west of the 100th parallel, in states such as New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and California. In 2006, 13 human plague cases were reported in the United States, the most since 1994.
The Plague Today Although the plague is today easily treatable with antibiotics, it has not yet been fully eradicated - nearly impossible since countless fleas and rodents still carry the disease.