The Black Death

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 257
  • Published : May 3, 2011
Open Document
Text Preview
“The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe” by Robert S. Gottfried is known as “A fascinating work of detective history, The Black Death traces the causes and far-reaching consequences of this infamous outbreak of plague that spread across the continent of Europe from 1347 to 1351. Drawing on sources as diverse as monastic manuscripts and dendrochronological studies (which measure growth rings in trees), historian Robert S. Gottfried demonstrates how a bacillus transmitted by rat fleas brought on an ecological reign of terror — killing one European in three, wiping out entire villages and towns, and rocking the foundation of medieval society and civilization.” The Black Death was an epidemic which spread across almost all of Europe in the years 1346 –1353; the plague killed over a third of the entire population. It has been described as the worst natural disaster in European history. The Black Death discusses the causes and results of the plague that devastated medieval Europe. It focuses on the many effects it had on the culture of medieval Europe and the possibility that it expedited cultural change. Robert S. Gottfried argued that rodent and insect life cycles, as well as the changing of weather systems affect plague. He claimed that the devastation plague causes is partly due to its perpetual recurrences. Plague ravaged Europe in cycles, devastated the people when they were recuperating. As can be later discovered in the book, the cycles of plague consumed the European population. A second thesis, which he described in greater detail, was that the plagues expedited the process of cultural change. The plagues killed a large percentage of each generation, leaving room for change. Why the name, Black Death? "The traditional belief is that it was so called because the putrefying flesh of the victims blackened in the final hours before death supervened. The trouble about this otherwise plausible theory is that no such phenomenon occurred. It is true that, in cases of septicemic plague, small black or purple blotches formed on the bodies of the sick and this symptom must have made a vivid impression on beholders" (Ziegler) Coming out of the East, the Black Death reached the shores of Italy in the spring of 1348 unleashing a rampage of death across Europe unprecedented in recorded history. By the time the epidemic played itself out three years later, anywhere between 25% and 50% of Europe's population had fallen victim to the pestilence. The plague presented itself in three interrelated forms. The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumors. In a short space of time these tumors spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumors had been and still remained. The bubonic variant (the most common) derives its name from the swellings or buboes that appeared on a victim's neck, armpits or groin. These tumors could range in size from that of an egg to that of an apple. Although some survived the painful ordeal, the manifestation of these lesions usually signaled the victim had a life expectancy of up to a week. Infected fleas that attached themselves to rats and then to humans spread this bubonic type of the plague. A second variation, pneumonic plague, attacked the respiratory system and was spread by merely breathing the exhaled air of a victim. It was much more virulent than its bubonic cousin - life expectancy was measured in one or two days. Finally, the septicemic version of the disease attacked the...
tracking img