The people at the Messina Harbor , a port in Northeast Sicily , stood and watched as a Genoese fleet made its way to dock..(Gottfried 141-144). The people standing ashore could by no means conceive of the horror found on board of these ships. The crew had a disease the like of which no one had seen before in the history of western civilization. The harbor masters looked on in complete awe and terror and tried to quarantine the ship but with no avail. (Gottfried141-144). It was too late. The rector fleas on the rats had already made it on shore, to bring death to millions in Europe for the months and years to come.(Gottfried 141-144). This disease was a conglomeration of bubonic, pneumonic, and septicaemic plague later to be called the Black Death . (Gottfried 141-144). No other epidemic in history has had such a profound effect as the Black Death had on Europe in the 14th century.
The Black Death is believed to have originated in the Gobi Desert in th 1320s. (Knox). The bacillus was alive long before the 1300s and caused a mild outbreak in Europe in the 6th century, but stayed dormant until the 14th century. (Knox). It began to spread outward, hitting parts of Asia, and killing millions in China . (Knox). It moved along caravan routes towards the west on land and also by ship, and reached Sicily in 1347. (Knox). It also reached Paris by the spring of 1348.(Gottfried 141-144).In the fall of 1348 it had traveled to England.(Knox).
The symptoms of this disease were terrible. The disease carried by infected fleas on rodents, brought with them terrifying symptoms. High fever is accompanying by aching limbs and vomiting of blood, as well as excessive swelling of the lymph nodes which soon turned black hence the name , Black Death. (Knox). After 3-4 days the lymph nodes became to big and burst, and death follows almost immediately. (Knox). Many believe the pneumonic plague was at hand as well, which attacks the lungs and can become airborne . (Knox).
The poor sanitary conditions in major European cities such as , poor sewage systems, inadequate garbage disposal, paired with over population was probably a reason for the disease to have such a profound effect on Europe. From 1347-1351, the plague wiped out 25-50% of Europe population leaving the few survivors asking questions.
No one knew what would cause such a devastating epidemic to hit Europe and many believed it was an act of vengeance from God . (Knox). The church men and high officials believed it was merely a disease , a very horrible one , and took measures to try and stop its effects, but with no great success. (Knox).City officials began to quarantine houses , isolate incoming ships on offshore islands, and simply keep away from the sick. (Knox). This quarantine measure was probably the most effective.(Knox).The popular opinion was that God was acting out in anger against the people.(Knox). People began to burn incense, ring church bells , fire cannons, and do just about anything in desperation.(Knox). It would seem that people would turn to the church for guidance in such trying times ,but this was not the case . The church clergy, in fear of their on safety , fled and often would interact with the infected and give them there last rites. Many people believed the clergy were greedy and only valued themselves. (Gottfried 140-1440).
It would seem that the clergy were being greedy, and self protective, and faith in the church began to ware as priest and clergy fled for safer ground. The clergy however was hit extremely hard by the disease and the parish clergy had a death rate of over 40%.(Platt 97).With out the guidance of the church people did anything the could to try and please God who they thought was bringing on this devastation as an act of anger. Flagellants, bands of 30-40 people, began to march through the streets and self mutilate themselves as acts of contrition for their sins. (Knox). Faith in organized religion was dwindling, the church was suffering huge losses in clergy , and the population as a whole was only declining.
In the years between 1347 and 1350 1/3 of everyone was dead.(Knox). Cities were especially hit hard by the plague but recovered almost rapidly than there rural counter parts . (Knox). After the plague had subsided somewhat, peasants left the countryside in search of opportunities in the city . (Knox). This huge decrease in the population , mass immigration from countryside to the city, and mass evacuation would turn Europe upside down, and mark the Black Death as the end of the central Middle Ages and the beginning of the later Middle ages. (Knox).
Depopulation was responsible for many changes in Europe in the mid 1300s . The extreme depopulation resulted in class mobility for one time stationary status of peasant workers . It was not hard for peasant to grow new crops for more diversified markets and increase profit.(Gottfried140).Inheritance patterns also changed and now females were sole inheritors of their families estates as the size of their families decreased . (Gottfried140).Shortage of workers and man power was also a problem in factories and this was a direct cause of increase of technology to keep up with the demand while still having a shortage of man power. (Gottfried141). The men who had training in a field almost doubled there pay as a lack of skilled workers was evident, it caused a increase in class mobility in many areas . (Gottfried142). While some were prospering the others felt the hard financial brunt of the population, financial businesses were left out in the cold as debtors and their families died , leaving no one to pay owed sums. (Knox). Often construction projects, were abandoned due to the lack of man power , mills and machinery would break with no skilled workers to fix them. (Knox). Wages rose, prices dropped , inflation occurred, and it took many years to over come these widespread problems. (Knox).
Businesses and financial institutions where not the only thing affected by the plague. Art transformed during this time as brutality and death appeared in many works .(Know). Politics were not dramatically affected all though the plague did leave its mark. King Alfonso XI of Castile was the only reining monarch that died from the epidemic but countless notables died, including the queen of France.(Knox). The hundred year war was halted in 1348 due to the loss of troops . Local politics too the hardest blow . City council, local nobles , and courts where wiped out . (Knox).
Europe was not a great place to be in the 14th century . The economy was already in a recession with expansion reaching its limits.(Knox). Crop yields were down due to colder weather climates and mass political unrest due to the mercenary armies roaming the countryside in search of plunder. Famine began in Europe due to the low crop yields and the people who didn’t die from the plague had to fear dying from starvation. (Knox).
The plague revisited parts of Europe and took with it 1/3 of the population as its victims. Never before or since has the world seen such a horrendous disease or a catastrophe of such epidemic proportions. The Black Death returned to London in 1665 but had only the fraction of the impact it had in some 300 yrs ago . Today plague is still reported, although now we can treat it before it becomes too serious. The plague is something we can look at and see how fragile the human race is but how strong the human spirit is to overcome such a disaster.