The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The disease spread fast and covered the territory from China to England and the ultimate western part of Europe, covering almost entire Europe within several years. The disease was a true mystery for Medieval people, whereas the medicine was under-developed to cope with such a disease as the Black Death, which was presumably a plague. The development and spread of the disease was fast and provoked the depopulation of Europe. At the same time, the Black Death had not only a devastating demographic impact but also the disease had a disastrous economic impact on Europe as well as other countries of the world and, what is more, the disease contributed to the consistent change of social relations, re-evaluation of the lifestyle and values of people living in the pandemic-stricken Europe and other countries of the world. In such a way, the Black Death affected the demographic situation in Europe and other countries of the world, changed socioeconomic relations and provoked re-consideration of basic values and beliefs of people living in that time.
The emergence of the Black Death in Europe was associated with the spread of the pandemic from the East. In fact, the origin of plagues is not clearly identified but the most likely region of the origin of the plague was China or the nearby territory. The plague spread from China westward via the Silk Road. In the course of time, the plague reached Crimea and Constantinople. The latter was one of the major trade centers between the West and the East. As a result, Constantinople became the place, where merchants and travelers from Europe and Asia as well as Africa came across. Goods from the East moved to Europe through Constantinople mainly and so did the plague. In fact, it is through Constantinople and moved further throughout Mediterranean countries. From the Mediterranean, the plague spread further throughout Europe affecting more and more countries. In such a way, the plague spread throughout Europe in the course of several years and affected the large population of Europe causing numerous deaths and depopulation of Europe.
At the same time, symptoms of the disease were different in the East and in the West. To put it more precisely, the nose bleeding in the East was the major symptom, which marked the upcoming death of patients. In stark contrast, nose bleeding was not a symptom of the Black Death in Europe. Instead, Europeans suffered from lumps in the groin or armpits. After the appearance of the lumps, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Ill people died within three days. In such a way, the disease was extremely dangerous and people died fast, whereas the contamination meant virtually certain death to ill persons.
In fact, the medieval medicine had come unprepared to resist the Black Death. People had no idea of contagious diseases and the epidemic spread fast. People buried deceased unprotected, whereas the burial was insufficient to protect from the spread of the disease. Towns and cities were full of decaying filth, which contributed to the rise of the rat population, which also contributed to the fast spread of the plague in Europe. People did not how to treat the disease and they did not know how to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Moreover, they did not even view it as a mere disease. Instead, they believed the Black Death was the punishment from the part of God, which people have to take.
The response of the society to the Black Death was characterized by consistent changes in the society. European society was devastated by the disease. Towns and cities were depopulated and suffered from the shortage of food. The large share of the rural population died out too. European society faced the threat of starvation. Peasants’ labor became extremely important and landlords had to attract peasants by higher wages. As a result, peasants started to move from their villages to other villages being attracted by lords that undermined the main principle of the feudal system where peasants were tied to the land that belong to landlords. The Black Death started to wreak havoc in Europe and the society came unprepared to the pandemics.
In such a situation, religion, which was the main source of salvation for people, still played an important part in the life of people and explanation of the disease. Religious leaders of both Muslim and Christian worlds viewed the Black Death as the punishment for sins committed by humans. Christians viewed the Black Death as the result of their sins, whereas Muslims viewed the Black Death as the result of the improper performance of their obligations as Muslims. In fact, religious leaders provided believers with the divine origin of the Black Death. At the same time, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church attempted to present the Black Death as the disease that came from the East because the sacred land was occupied by Muslims. Instead, Muslims believed that the plague was a sort of punishment of those who were not true believers.
In fact, the religious views were extremely important for Europeans to the extent that some people took extreme forms of religious rites to protect themselves from the plague. In this regard, it is worth mentioning flagellants, who were people, who wanted to show their love to God by whipping themselves, hoping that God would forgive them their sins and that they would be spared of the Black Death. In such a way, they believed they could protect themselves from the plague through whipping themselves. This was a sort of self-punishment to obtain the forgiveness of God.
At the same time, the Black Death provoked the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which resulted in Jewish pogroms. Jewish pogroms were the response to the Black Death because Europeans believed Jews were responsible for the spread of the disease. Europeans believed that the Jewish minority brought the plague. In this regard, the lifestyle of Jews and their involvement in trade was probably the major factors that justified the belief of Europeans that Jews brought the plague to Europe.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, the Black Death was the pandemic that had brought huge devastation to Europe as well as other parts of the world. The plague swept away a considerable part of the population and caused consistent socioeconomic and socio-cultural changes. The Black Death had revealed the full extent to which human society was vulnerable to pandemics and to which human society was unprotected.
February 6, 2015 |Free Essay Sample Papers|Tags: pandemics
The Black Death was an epidemic which ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1400. It was a disease spread through contact with animals (zoonosis), basically through fleas and other rat parasites (at that time, rats often coexisted with humans, thus allowing the disease to spread so quickly).
In 1347, the arrival of the Black Death to Crimea was already chronicled. The following winter, it was spread by Genovese traders to Constantinople and Italy. By 1348, it had already reached the Western Mediterranean and with the summer heat was spreading to Western Europe; but was halted by the onset of the winter. In 1349 it reached Northern Europe, and, in 1350, Scandinavia and Russia. There continued to be major outbreaks of the plague until 1720, so that the disease was not completely eradicated until much later. However, the outbreaks were never as virulent as that of the Late Middle Ages.
Effects and consequences
The disease had a terrible impact. Generally speaking, a quarter of the population was wiped out, but in local settlements often half of the population was exterminated.
The direct impacts on economy and society were basically a reduction in production and in consumption. The epidemic clearly caused economic effects which brought about the deepest ever recession in history. It is important to note that it is in this era, so clearly marked by the impact of the plague, when the large-scale construction of monasteries, churches and cathedrals peters out. Consequently, it can be said that the black death is the reason the Middle Ages come to an end.
In the short, the most noteworthy economic consequences of the disease were that the fields were not cultivated and the harvests rotted; this in turn sparked an incipient shortage of agricultural products, which were only consumed by those people who could pay for them. With the increase in prices, those with the fewest means endured hardship and suffering.
In the long term, this situation would be aggravated by specific outbreaks of Black Death until the end of the Middle Ages.
Influence of the Black Death on production factors and demographics
Before the rapid spread of the Black Death, Europe was overpopulated and there was a shortage of land to be cultivated. Every last piece of space had been used to grow crops, and even formerly barren land was being cultivated. Land was costly, with people having to pay high rents while earning low wages.
The revolutionary effect (if it can be called thus) of the Black Death was the inversion of the land/work relationship. The reduction in the workforce due to the high mortality rates made labor a scarce asset. Peasants began to have a certain degree of margin for negotiation, as the rentals for their land grew less costly, leading to an increase in their wages. In certain parts of Europe, rulers took measures to control these increases in salary, sparking peasants’ revolts in some cases.
In short, the conclusion that can be drawn is that peasants’ conditions improved due to labor shortages.
At the same time, as the disease progressed, global demand fell; by this means cultivation focused once again on the best and most fertile land. Settlements formerly established in less productive land were abandoned, and those lands were turned over to livestock, allowing peasants to eat animal protein and improving to some degree the living conditions of the time.
This social and demographic evolution gives rise to the Renaissance, a period which is particularly striking in terms of artistic expression, built around patronage, and which can be analyzed from different standpoints. Society had been plunged into depression and sadness, and the general state of unknowing gives rise to many fears. While it may seem incongruous, the reduction in population also stimulated economic growth.
Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves if it is possible that a tragedy on this scale can alone cause so many changes as to bring about the end of the Middle Ages. While there are many different theories and interpretations, it was clearly a decisive factor for change, and one for which the society of the fifteenth century was not prepared.
Francisco José Cano Galán
Risk Analyst, BBVA, Madrid (Spain)