The Black Death

       October 1347, commercial ships sailed into Sicilian and Messianian ports, bringing goods from the far east, and something else. The ships were ridden with a mysterious disease, The Black Plague, which in a few short years decimated half the European population. The fact went unnoticed at the time that on the ships "the sea going" rats were also afflicted with a sickness. Because of the bad sanitation in Europe, the people were unable to "flea" from "The Black Death."

       In the Early stages of the plague, the fleas bit the rats and then fleas passed it on the contaminated bood to human bite victims. In later stages the sickness was passed from person to person. The victims of the Bubonic plague had little chance of survival and very few came back from it. The afflicted had symptoms that were very distinctive. The main symptoms was a swelling of the lymph glands of the groin or armpits, filling with pus and turned black, accounting for the name "The Black Death." A high fever accompanied the swelling along with coughing up blood and a pink rash.

       A common belief was that the sickness was cause by "corrupt vapors," this gave birth to the rhyme:

The first line refers to the pink rash. The second, posies were carried to perfume the corrupt vapors. Sneezing was brought on by the high feverish chills, and lastly death came to all.

      It was a widely held belief that The plague was a punishment from God for wrongs committed by the people of Europe. Looking to place blame, Jews were massacred all over Europe, for suspicion of water poisoning. The people turn on each other, out of fear, people boarded themselves in there houses and quarantined away for the world on islands but the death found them too. On one extreme groups wandered the county side whipping themselves in self-mortification and on the other side they took the attitude of "eat, drink, and be merry," in what could have been there last moments alive. Others questioned the very existence of "A God."

     With the almost total decimation of the peasant labor force, the survivors were able to negotiate with land owners and were able to lease land, improving their income and social standing. The peasantry lost in other ways, with frequent crop failures and famine. This sparked violent revolt, hundreds of noblemen were killed before it was put down.

In five short years an estimated 25 million people were dead as a result of the "Black Death." As only a single example, the English population would take 200 years to recover.


"Giovanni Boccaccio" (1313-1375)

A Florentine who writes about the horrific scenes and how he and others are viewing life at the this time of crisis. This is an excerpt from his work the Decameron.

"Jean Froissart" (1338-1410)

Froissart who is French aristocrat and historian discuses the revolts in England, in an excerpt from his work Chronicles of England, France, and Spain.


Plague in England 1539-1640

Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe

Plague (Medical)

Sources for this page:
National Geographic, May 1988 Fleas: "The Lethal Leapers"
The Humanistic Tradition (second edition), Gloria K. Fiero


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