The Black Plague

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Rachel Horton
Dr. Doran
GEOL 1101 TR 9:30
29 October 2009
The Black Death
The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was one of the most serious natural disasters in the history of the world. The plague ran rampant and swept over Europe from 1347 A.D. to 1350 A.D. At least one third of Europe’s population was wiped out. In Medieval England alone, 1.5 million people out of four million people died between 1347A.D. and 1350 A.D. The Black Death took over all of Europe, killing millions of people and destroying many others’ lives. The Black Plague was the greatest devastation in the world and will forever be remembered as the most disturbing natural catastrophe against humanity.

It is believed that the plague’s deadly path of destruction originated in Asia in the early 1300’s, then traveled west with Mongol armies and traders, arriving on the shores of Sicily in 1347. The plague was carried on Italian ships fleeing from hostile Tartar armies invading Caffa (now known as Feodosiya), an Italian trading colony on the Black Sea. Other traders from Sicily most likely transported the plague to Spain and other Mediterranean countries along medieval trade routes, eventually reaching much of Europe. The deadly disease reached the coastal town of Weymouth, England, in the summer of 1348, aboard an infected French vessel. It then spread like wildfire all over England.

The impact of the plague on England and all of Europe was devastating. Historians of today have a vivid perspective of the plague’s impact through the writings of Giovanni Boccaccio, a resident of Florence, Italy, when the plague when the plague struck, Boccaccio’s masterpiece, The Decameron, gives what historians believe to be a very accurate account of the Black Death and how it wreaked havoc on the Italian population. Though the book is a fictional tale of seven men and three women who flee to a villa outside of Florence in an effort to escape the plague, Boccaccio uses detailed descriptions of how the disease actually affected his city. In his own words Boccaccio states that “…the condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street…” (Cartwright). In describing the many victims of this deadly disease, Boccaccio wrote that many of his fellow citizens “…ate lunch with their friend and dinner with their ancestors in paradise” (Cartwright). What actually is the Black Death? It originated with Oriental Rat Fleas. The fleas, carried on the backs of black rats, were transported all over Europe aboard trading vessels. Once a human was bitten by one of these infected fleas, the disease would spread rapidly through the body. There are three forms of the disease: bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic and enteric forms of the plague. Bubonic is the most common form and is transmitted to humans by an infected flea or rat. Symptoms include chills, high fever, delirium, nausea, a racing heart, and swelling in the neck, groin, and armpits, with death occurring in three to six days. The pneumonic plague spreads in colder weather and is more lethal than the bubonic form, with death occurring in just a few hours. It spreads from human to human by sneezing, coughing, or touching.

The septicemic and enteric forms of the plague are the rarest forms, yet the most deadly. Virtually all infected with these forms of the plague die.
With the spread of the Black Death, there emerged many theories on how to stop this deadly rampaging epidemic. Governments tired to deal with the plague as best they could, but their efforts proved to be ineffective. Since the disease itself was largely a mystery, the only thing government officials could do was to quarantine all houses where the disease was present. By doing this, the healthy inhabitants were forced to associate with those infected. This did nothing to stop the disease or reduce the death...
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