The world almost came to a standstill in October 1347 when a deadly plague was brought to the harbor of Messina Sicily. It was carried by Genoese trading ships which on arriving in the harbor, most of the people on board were dead and the rest were almost dying due to this serious disease. The source of this plague can be traced to Crimea and people affected had strange symptoms like black swelling in their armpits and groins from which thick blood came out(Benedictow). Those who were lucky to be taken to hospital alive died after a short time and it was evident that the disease was passed from one person to another easily. People who attended to these patients died too within a short period and this included doctors and nurses.
The symptoms of the disease were seen on a person within the first 24 hours and they died immediately while others could sustain the condition for up to five days. Other symptoms of the disease included coughing and vomiting of blood and patients sweated heavily and the swellings grew bigger every time. Additionally, the patients had an unpleasant smell coming from their bodies and the urine they excreted had traces of blood in it. It was thought that one person could infect the whole world considering how serious the plague was. Hopelessness was the main expression from faces of affected people since there was no hope of ever getting well and this was actually the reality. Cases of some people who could go to bed well and die in their sleep scared everyone and this prompted people to feel that death was seated next to them.
The disease appeared in two main forms. The first one was spread from one person to another by contact since it infected the bloodstream and it caused buboes in the body. This type of the disease was characterized by internal bleeding and was difficult to control. The second form of the infection was transmitted by respiratory infection since its effect was in the lungs. This pneumonic form was more serious than the first one since its patients died after a short period of time through a combination of the two forms killed a person almost instantly by paralyzing the functioning of body systems. Sometimes, doctors contacted the disease and died even before their patients and the cause of this dynamism was not well understood. According to a French physician called Simon de Covino, one person infected with the disease could infect thousands of people.
Many theories explain the origin and history of this disease before it got to Europe. There were rumors that a serious plague that was to arise from china and spread to Persia, Egypt and the whole of Asia are evident(Duncan and Scott). The final destination of this plague was to be Europe and all these facts came to be. This is the main reason why almost 24 million people died in India leading to the depopulation of the country according to pope Clement VI. However, the most tragic impact of this plague was felt in Europe which started at Messina when the plague was brought by ships used in trade. This tragedy created a lament in Whales as an expression of the bitterness of the people affected by the disease. They referred to it as a black smoke that brought death to both young and old without caring. Its eruptions are likened to those of black peas due to their ugly nature. Its pain is expressed as terrible and makes people to cry loudly. According to the lamentation, woe is to the people in Europe and the disease affects the armpits.
The disease was spread to other parts of Europe in phases with it penetrating to France through Marseille and Tunis being the entry point of the disease into North Africa. After 1348, the disease spread through navigable rivers and sea and from Marseille the disease was spread to Spain through the Languedoc ports. The disease got to Avignon in March of the same year. Within the 3 months that followed, Montpellier and Toulouse were also affected and this happened concurrently as in Florence and Rome in neighboring Italy. Lyon and Bordeaux were affected by August and in the same period, the plague was spread to England while in the summer, the disease was spread from Italy into Switzerland and then Hungary. The disease in most cases killed people within 4-6 months in a given area and disappeared and it is evident that it disappeared in the winter and emerged during spring.
Though no clear statistics are provided, it is estimated that about a third of the population in Europe was killed by this plague. Corpses filled cities until people who could bury the dead were fewer than those dead. This was witnessed in many parts of Europe where the disease was serious. It was advisable to burn the dead bodies and those doing this were supposed to disinfect themselves to avoid being contaminated considering the disease could be transmitted through contact with dead bodies(Wood and DeWitte-Avi??a). Organizations which could care for the sick were formed such as Compagnia in Florence but their efforts were outnumbered by the number of deaths occurring daily. This prompted them to abandon the bodies in the streets where they lay putrid. Some bodies were buried using boards and coffins while others were dumped into common graves. Shallow graves were dug and bodies buried therein and this was a challenge since fogs easily dragged the bodies and devoured them. Death was seen as a normal thing since close friends and family members departed and prayers were not always offered before burying the bodies. People believed this was the end of the world and nobody cried when others died because it was certain that everybody was going to die anyway. This prompted pope Clement VI to offer common prayers and forgive sins of all those who died since many were not attended by priests. Death rates varied from one place to another. For instance, a death rate of 800 people per day were recorded in Paris alone with 500 and 600 deaths per day in Pisa and Vienna respectively. While Paris lost about 50000 people during this period, Florence also felt the impact of the plague with about one third of its population dead.
The only course of action left to people was flight. People fled densely populated areas and moved to the countryside as observed in Florence. This was helpful to the rich as compared to the poor peasants who had nowhere to go. A Scottish chronicler made an assumption that was later supported by Simon de Cavino of Montpellier that the disease killed the meaner and the common people. In the countryside, the peasants died like flies in the fields and roads and this was associated to their poverty which made it uneasy for them to get cleaner environment free from the disease. Furthermore, the disease affected domestic animals like goats, sheep, cows and pigs and in most cases, they ran wild. According to a Bavarian chronicler of Neuberg, men and women ran up and down as if they were mad and left cattle get astray. Famine affected people since there was no one to cultivate the fields. People were uncertain of the future since people died easily and in large numbers. People thought that the world would not have regained its stability due to these massive deaths.
Special groups of people such as doctors and clergymen died out of the disease than those from other professions. This was as a result of the nature of their jobs which involved getting into contact with people. For instance, out of 24 doctors in Venice, 20 of them died during this epidemic. On the other hand, the proportion of clerical varied and they also died due to this disease. For instance, In England, the archbishop of Canterbury died in August 1348 while the person appointed to succeed him died within the year that followed.
The disease lacked a natural cause and it was believed that the cause was supernatural. This is due to the appearance of a black dog with a drawn sword in the holy water that was administered by a holy priest. In contrary to this, Scandinavians had a belief that the pest Maiden emerged from the mouths of the dead in the form of a blue flame and then flew to the air and according to many studies, their ideologies were justified since the disease appeared like it was a curse from a supernatural being. Pope also said publicly that the disease was a way through which God was expressing his wrath on mankind to cause affliction to them and this fallacy was agreed upon by the emperor John Cantacuzene who said that it was a curse from the heavens. This extended a sense of guilt among people in different parts of Europe for the need of redemption since they thought the end was coming. Sins like greed and adultery and falsehood were strongly condemned In return.
In conclusion the plague that befell Europe killed very many people in the 14th century and this was key in the depopulation of Europe even to the present days. The disease spread through the major sea routes to new places in Europe killing people in many cities in Europe. France was one of the most affected cities and this can be attributed to its large population during those days. People tried to avert the cruel hands of this disease but it is evident that even those who went to the remote areas died out of the disease(Antoine and Hillson). Most of the people affected were the poor due to their activities which exposed them more to the disease. The cause was attributed to the punishment of the heavens on human beings as a result of sin and of the many theories that were developed, this was the most readily accepted.
- Antoine, Daniel, and Simon Hillson. “Famine, the Black Death, and Health in Fourteenth-Century London.” Archaeology International 8 (2004): 26–28. Web.
- Benedictow, Ole J. “THE BLACK DEATH.” History Today 55 (2005): 42–49. Web.
- Duncan, C J, and S Scott. “What Caused the Black Death?” Postgrad.Med.J. 81.0032–5473 (Print) (2005): 315–320. Web.
- Wood, James, and Sharon DeWitte-Avi??a. “Was the Black Death Yersinial Plague?” Lancet Infectious Diseases 2004: 485. Web.