Analyse the socio-economic, political, religious and cultural consequences of the Black Death

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Analyse the socio-economic, political, religious and cultural consequences of the Black DeathThe Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, with its effects peaking in Europe between 1347 and 1351. This essay examines the socio-economic, political and religious and cultural consequences of the Black Death, the worst plague the world had ever seen. The later Middle Ages, of course, are usually characterized by historians as a period of crisis and trouble. As Bowsky notes, however, "the Black Death was not responsible for this crisis, for evidence of the changes can be seen well before 1347" (Bowsky 1978, 23). Arguably, the Black Death acted as a catalyst for the problems that had plagued the latter half of the Middle Ages, exacerbating old problems, while founding new ones which led to the end of feudalism, the rise of the peasantry and the end of the Middle Ages. In essence, one tiny insect, a flea, toppled feudalism and changed the course of history in Europe. This essay commences with a brief overview of the demographic impact of the Black Death. It argues that the plague did much more than devastate the medieval population. It caused a substantial change in economic and social structures in all areas of the world. It also opened up the possibility of increased peasant prosperity: Europe had been overpopulated before the plague, and a reduction of thirty percent to fifty percent of the population should have meant less competition for resources, more available land and food, and higher wages. The Black Death certainly changed the general attitudes of the populace towards organised religion and, finally, artistic expression and culture slowly started to reflect the impact of this plague.

Some sources estimate that, over the three-year period 1348 - 1350, "between one-third and one-half of the European population died from the outbreak of the Black Death" (Herlihy 1997, 72). Approximately 25 million deaths occurred in Europe alone, with many others occurring in northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia (Nohl, 1926). The death toll, however, varied widely from country to country and from region to region. Some rural areas, for example, Eastern Poland and Lithuania, had such small populations and were so isolated that the plague had little effect. The Black Death hit towns and cities disproportionately hard. Larger cities were the worst off, as population densities and close living quarters facilitated the transmission of diseases. These cities were also strikingly filthy, infested with lice, fleas and rats, and subject to diseases caused by malnutrition and poor hygiene. According to historian John Kelly, "woefully inadequate sanitation made medieval urban Europe so disease-ridden, no city of any size could maintain its population without a constant influx of immigrants from the countryside" (Kelly 2005, 68). The influx of new citizens facilitated the movement of the plague between communities, and contributed to its longevity within larger communities. At the same time, rural populations, particularly villages, were not immune: it has been estimated that as many as 25 percent of all villages were depopulated, mostly the smaller communities, as the survivors fled to larger towns and cities (Davis, 1986).

According to some historians, it took hundreds of years before Europe's population equalled the pre-Black Death figures. For example, Davis notes that "the population remained low for a century; indeed in many areas, the population did not recover until the seventeenth century" (Davis 1986, 262). Overall, there can be no doubting the claim of Haddock and Kiesling that, while "the fingers of one hand count Europe's mid-fourteenth-century Black Death years" the Black Death "brought the highest continent wide annual death rates ever reliably documented before or since" (Haddock and Kiesling 2002, 545).

Despite this widespread death toll, the plague had little permanent effect on the course of...
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