The Black Death and Its Effects on the Western World

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The Black Death was, in the opinion of many, one of the worst contagions in human history. In the 14th century, at least 75 million individuals perished around the world due to the agonizing, highly contagious disease. Originating from fleas on rodents in China, the pathogens spread west and spared few regions. In Europe’s towns, hundreds died nearly every day. Their bodies were almost always thrown into mass graves. There was much misery that attributed in the decline of the West, but The Plague was a major factor, killing much of the ancient world’s population. When historians speak of The Black Death, they are talking about the widespread plague that took place in the mid-14th century in Eurasia. It is best known as the Bubonic Plague. It is named after the painful ‘buboes’ that formed on the victims' bodies. A classic pattern of the plague was a splitting migraine. The sudden onset of feverish chills would leave people exhausted and debilitated. They experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, soreness in the arms and legs. Within 24-48 hours, the buboes appeared. They were described to be firm, burning tumors on the neck, under the arms, and in the genital area. Soon the pustules would turn black, break loose and begin seeping pus and blood. They could grow to the size of a grapefruit. Recovery was possible, but not likely. Death was the most probable outcome. After the swelling had started, one would begin to bleed internally. Blood would appear in the urine and stool, and blood pooling under the skin, turning it black in color. The stench of anything exiting the body would be like rotting flesh. They would undergo serious pain before they died. Once you contracted the disease, you had only days left to live. The plague is carried by fleas living on rodents such as rats or mice that boarded vessels normally with the rest of the crew. A flea would ingest contaminated blood from its host, and spread the disease from host to host, until eventually, a human was bitten. When a blood engorged flea bites, it introduces what it extracted from the last host into the new host. Fleas were not uncommon, so they went undeterred. In this fashion, the plague bounced from rat to human with no resistance. Pneumonic plague is airborne. It was spread by inhaling the infected droplets breathed out by a victim who was contaminated. The pneumonic strain was much more active and spread at a quicker pace, just as stealthily. The disease is once in a while transferred by direct contact with an infected person through open sores or cuts, having direct access to the bloodstream. This could result with any form of the plague, except pneumonic. Septicemic plague exterminated the fastest of all the strains, and certainly accounted for the stories of individuals going to bed healthy, falling into a coma and never waking up. The disease is believed to have begun in Central Asia in mid-1300. It quickly spread to Africa, and throughout Europe. Europe often traded with the East, so some Europeans were aware of the cryptic illness sweeping across Asia in the 1300s. “Scientists believe that Y. Pestis originated in China. Strains of the disease may have traveled to Europe along the Silk Road, a collection of ancient trade routes that brought silk, spices, and other wonders from Asia. Sick merchants or soldiers returning from abroad to European cities such as the Italian port of Genoa may have been among the carriers.” (Harvey, 2012) Roaming through Central Asia, the unprejudiced killing from the plague moved along an established trade route, passing through Europe and the Black Sea Region. In 1347, Caffa, a Genoese trading post, came under attack by a Tartar army. When the Tartars were unknowingly killed by the plague, the Genoese were celebratory. God had listened to their prayers and had punished their opposition. Their celebration came to a halt when the Mongols began catapulting the corpses of infected victims over the walls and into the town. They...
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