The Long-term Impact of the Black Death on the Medieval Agriculture
As one of the most severe plagues in human history, the Black Death was unprecedented in two ways: on one hand, it was undoubtedly a terrible nightmare, which swept the entire Europe and killed so many people; however, on the other hand, it was also a unique event that accelerated the process of European agricultural history. In years before the Black Death, the European agriculture was already in trouble. Agriculture has long been the foundation of economy and society, especially during the time as early as in the Middle Ages. As the foundation of agriculture, corn production was the most important agricultural activity at the time. However, corn production faced several problems, which severely cumbered the development of agriculture. The shortage of livestock was one of the obstacles, which led to both a lack of manure and low efficiency in culturing. Other reasons such as over-cultivation and lack of water conservancy facilities also encumbered the development of agriculture. At the same time, population was growing rapidly. Although the estimations of the growth rate were not exactly the same, there was a consensus among historians that the gross population in Europe almost doubled between 11th and 14th century. In year 1000 and year 1300, the population in France was 5 million and 15 million
respectively; it was 3 million and 12 million in Germany respectively; in Italy the population was 5 million and 10 million respectively; and in the British Isles, it was 2 and 5 million. (1) A problem with a rapid population growth is that the population may gradually outgrow agriculture production. The poor balance between the rapid growing population and relatively slow growing agriculture once collapses, there would certainly be a severe disaster. As some historians pointed out, “output continued to rise but not as quickly as populations. High famine- and disease-related mortality led to demographic collapse and the circle started again.” (2) Though this was probably not the main reason of the eruption of the Black Death, the unbalance of population and productivity did contribute to the severity of the plague. The Black Death led first to short-term impacts. The most severe and direct impact of the Black Death to the European society was its threat and damage to the population. The epidemic was unrelenting at that time, as it carried with it a high mortality and the ability to infect fast, and joint with the undeveloped medicine system in the Middle Ages. The Black Death first attacked the area of Mediterranean, and the area along the Atlantic Ocean, where the trade centers and crowed harbors were. Then it marched all the way into the inland, virus carried by people and rats both through waterways and in-land traffic. In urban areas, the plague was especially menacing, since a higher population
density offered the virus more opportunities to spread through contact between people. What’s more, the poor condition of public health facilities contributed to the severity of the plague. It is hard to assert an exact average mortality rate caused by the Black Death, because the severity of the plague varied in different parts of Europe and it also differed in urban and rural areas. There were places highly struck by the epidemic with mortality rates higher than 50%, such as the eastern area in England; and there were also places, such as the region of Bohemia, with a relatively low mortality rate of under 15%. There is another problem with the available statistics however, as most of these statistics only record the death of people who had a stable income and could afford tax or rent. This meant that the lower class of poor workers and peasants were not covered by most of the records. Thus we can only draw an estimated conclusion that, in general, the average mortality in Europe during the Black Death was between...
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