The Black Death, the most severe epidemic in human history, ravaged Europe from 1347-1351. This plague killed entire families at a time and destroyed at least 1,000 villages. Greatly contributing to the Crisis of the Fourteenth Century, the Black Death had many effects beyond its immediate symptoms. Not only did the Black Death take a devastating toll on human life, but it also played a major role in shaping European life in the years following.
The Black Death consisted mainly of Bubonic plague, but pneumonic plague was also present in the epidemic. Symptoms of the Bubonic plague included high fever, aching limbs, and blood vomiting. Most characteristic of the disease were swollen lymph nodes, which grew until they finally burst. Death followed soon after. The name "Black Death" not only referred to the sinister nature of the disease, but also to the black coloring of the victims' swollen glands. Pneumonic plague was even more fatal, but it was not as abundant as the Bubonic plague.
The first outbreak of the plague was reported in China in the early 1330's. Trade between Asia and Europe had been growing significantly, and in 1347, rat-infested ships from China arrived in Sicily, bringing the disease with them. Since Italy was the center of European commerce, business, and politics, this provided the perfect opportunity for the disease to spread. The plague existed in the rats and was transferred to humans by fleas living on the rats. It struck cities first and then infected rural areas. The Black Death spread so rapidly that by 1350, one-third of Europe was dead.
European economy and society changed drastically following the Black Death. Because so many people had died, there was a huge labor shortage. This contributed to the end of the feudal system, since serfs could often leave their manors and make a better living in cities. In addition to better work opportunities, survivors of the plague had a surplus of material goods. Many of the... [continues]
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