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Black death and the impact it left in europe

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Published: 1st Jan 1970 in History

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Black Death and the impact it left in Europe

Due to the Bubonic Plague a nearly complete destruction of Europe happened by late 1351. “Among the numerous vivid illustrations of the horror are a German chronicler's image of ships floating with dead crews aimlessly on the seas and an Italian chronicler's offhand hyper-bole that ‘there was not a dog left pissing on the wall'" (Lerner 1981 p. 533). One of the results of this horrible disease was that within four years a third of the population had died. The plague was not a respecter of persons, it did not matter what ones station was in life, and it affected everyone from the poor to the rich, from serfs to nobility. Another result was due to all the deaths, people's economic status changed and these changes left a lasting impact in Europe.

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Medical and scientific impact

The Bubonic plague is a disease of wild rodents in which the bacterium, Yersinia pestis and was spread between them by infected fleas. Symptoms included swelling of the lymph glands, which are also called buboes, and hemorrhagic red spots on the chest, which was a result of bleeding from damaged blood vessels under the skin. A “bubo is simply an inflamed gland, and the name bubonic plague is given to the disease because of the inflammation, and sometimes suppuration, of the various lymphatic glands of the body (Wyman 1897 p. 445). The disease spread by infected fleas from infected rats coming in on ships into ports. The disease then spread from human to human contact. Because of the plague, the areas of medicine and science made strides in advancements. Medieval medicine completely failed in the face of the plague so physicians and other scientists had to come up with new ways in which to fight the disease, and this opened up new methods of exploration of how the human body works. “One of the most important changes that occurred was the dissection of actual human cadavers, which until this time forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, who taught that by cutting open a dead body, the soul was released and would never reach Heaven.” (Blackleaf, 2006).

This gave physicians the opportunity to start exploring the human body and by 1380, the knowledge they had obtained of the human body was very accurate. This began the way modern medicine is practiced today. Another impact in the medical field was that ordinary people started to want medical guides so they could take care of their own health, this lead to more medical text being printed in the vernacular instead of just being printed in Latin.

Impact on the economic system

“The mortality was awesome; forty per cent of the population of Europe, the known western world, had perished.”(Duncan, 2004). This decrease in the population caused the economy to be the hardest hit aspect of this period. Large numbers of skilled artisans and laborers died as a result of the plague this caused those who had survived to be in greater demand by the rich and thus were able to demand higher wages for their services.. Serfs who were beginning to be liberated from tilling their lord's land were told to return to their master's duties . 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. Unattended crops and stray animals died of starvation because of the lack of care. Several domesticated animals began to roam the forest. Farming communities became rare. The lack of sufficient law enforcement personnel promoted lawlessness. People called “Bechini” pillaged homes, murdering and raping people. They dressed in red robes with red masks and only their eyes showed. The horror of the Black Death had taken on a new victim, the economy.

People who were greedy started to marry young survivors that had inherited their family's fortune. Peasants took control over their dead masters possessions, including their homes, tools, and livestock. As a result of all the deaths there an abundance of goods, but not many people had survived to buy them. Prices began to fall because everyone began to have extra money and as a result, many survivors were able to buy luxury good they would have never dreamed obtaining before the plague. The plague also saw a downward spiral in morality “In some cities, such as Paris, the reaction to random death had been a "why bother?" collapse of morals. There and elsewhere, this outlasted the plague. In Florence: finding themselves few and rich, men forgot what had happened... and took to gluttony, taverns, gambling and unbridled lust.” (Europe: 1348: Plague and economics 1999,December).

The plague also caused a change in the between the manor lords and the laborers which brought about the end of the manorial system. Since there was a reduction in the labor force, workers who were freed before the plague could demand higher wages. Those still under contract demanded their freedom and higher wages. The standard of living for the peasants quickly climbed and between 1347 and 1353 “The Black Death caused urban real wages to rise by as much as 100 per cent in the decades after 1350 and they remained above their earlier levels until late in the sixteenth century” (Pamuk 2007 p.292). However, the landlords saw a 20% decrease in their revenues. Landlords were then forced to stop farming and lease their land to their former serfs. With no middleman, and no ties to their former lords, the former serfs were free to farm their own land as they wished.

Religious impact

People began to question their values. The atmosphere of the early 1300's went from being one of cooperation, to the idea of individualism. Self-satisfaction and self-indulgence became popular as people started realize that they did not know what to expect the next day so it was better to live life to the fullest now. People became disillusioned with the Roman Catholic Church and the power it wielded and as a result, its power and influence declined. As a result of this disillusionment they began to question God and the Roman Catholic Church. The priest had always taught that humans were God's chosen people, but what kind of God did not try to save his children?

The Roman Catholic priests were thought to be the intermediaries between God and the people, but people started to realize that they could have a personal relationship with God and they did not need a priest to intercede or lead them. During the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church taught that it was essential that people were given last rites and had the opportunity to confess their sins before they died. The spread of the plague in monasteries caused a death rate of nearly 50%. Due to these deaths, there were not enough priest to give last rites, support, or help to the victims.

Due to this dire situation Pope Clement VI grant remission of sins to all who died of the plague. Victims were then allowed to confess their sins to each other and this include confessing to women as well. The Roman Catholic Church could not explain the deadly disease and this caused their belief system to be tested. This change in their belief system then caused people to start question religion. Just like in the medical field people started to want bibles printed in the vernacular instead of Latin. Religious reformers such as John Wycliffe in England, and John Huss in Bohemia, were among many leaders that challenged that challenged the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrine all over Europe. These complaints did led to the Protestant Reformation, and the teachings that people stood in direct relation to God and did not need to confess or be absolved of their sins by a priest. These changes in their belief system may not have been the cause of the Reformation, but it certainly hastened its onset.


"The horrifying Black Death wiped out more than 55 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages - but the catastrophe changed the world forever by giving birth to the Renaissance" (Getz, 1991 p.265) as well as caused far reaching changes in the economic system and even the religious views of the people that were affected by this horrible disease. Remarkably out of the effect of this plague was the Renaissance, a rebirth of ancient and Roman and Greek art, literature and architecture. If not for the plague we might not have had men like Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, Michelangelo and many more we consider Renaissance men. Even today, there is debate about the plague with some historians concluding that it was not the plague but was the result of other causes. Robert E. Lerner stated “Without doubt a solid general study of the Black Death is still needed. Let us hope that when it is undertaken it will eliminate the bubonic plague error and inject some common sense into the treatment of cultural responses.”(Lerner, 2008 p.225-226). Regardless of what caused these deaths, the fact remains that there was an every lasting effect on society in the medical field, the economy,


Blackleaf. (2006, September 11). Canadian Content Interactive Media [The Black Death]. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from Canadian Content Interactive Media website: http://forums.canadiancontent.net/history/49608-black-death.html

Duncan, C., & Scott, S. (2004, August 10). The History of the Black Death . First Science. Retrieved from http://www.firstscience.com/SITE/ARTICLES/ history-of-the-black-death.asp

Getz, F. M. (1991, Summer). Black Death and the Silver Lining: Meaning, Continuity, and Revolutionary Change in Histories of Medieval Plague. Journal of the History of Biology, 24(2), 265-289. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4331174

Lerner,Robert(2008). Fleas: Some Scratchy Issues Concerning the Black Death.The Journal of the Historical Society,8(2),205-228. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID:1473069751).

Lerner, R. E. (1981, June). The Black Death and Western European Eschatological Mentalities. The American Historical Review, 86(3), 533-552. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1860369

PAMUK,S..(2007). The Black Death and the origins of the 'Great Divergence' across Europe, 1300-1600.European Review of Economic History,11(3),289-317. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:1417732121).

Europe: 1348: Plague and economics.(1999,December). The Economist,353(8151),33,36. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID:47541030).

Wyman, W. (1897, April). The Black Plague. The North American Review, 164(485), 441-452. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25118799


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