Describe the long-term consequences of the Bubonic Plague for the Afro-Eurasian world.
The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, was a devastating epidemic that occurred during the fourteenth century that wiped out large portions of the populations of Northern, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as parts of Asia and northern Africa. Because historical documentation of the disease was much more prevalent in Europe than it was in Asia at the time, it was widely believed that the epidemic must have started in Europe; however evidence points to its origins in China or the central Asian steppes.
In Hebei province in China, in 1334, the disease wiped out nearly 90% of the population. All told, China was very hard hit by the plague, with the population of this vast country being decimated by more than half; 65 million people out of a total estimated population of 1200 had lost their lives by 1393; and it believed a large portion of these deaths were due to the plague epidemic.
The plague spread quickly in densely-populated urban regions, and those without proper sanitation, because it was carried by the infected fleas found on rats and other rodents. Although it is estimated that roughly half of those people infected could survive the illness, in some regions with harsh weather conditions or low supplies of food, or generally rough living situations (inadequate shelter or water for maintaining hygiene), the mortality rate was much higher.
The social, political and economic implications of the epidemic were enormous. Loss of life meant inability to maintain basic economic structures; loss of people to maintain agricultural practices (farming and animal husbandry, as well as harvesting wild crops such as fruit) meant widespread food shortages. The maintenance of a military presence would have been nearly impossible due to loss of life and destabilization of leadership. Rebuilding the economies of rural villages was slow and difficult, particularly if any of the affected regions were also subject to harsh weather or natural catastrophes such as drought, monsoon or extreme heat or cold.
The social implications in Europe were tied to religious belief systems; it was thought that the plague was a sign of evil, or a curse brought on by witches; in this way the Black Death sowed the seeds for the witch craze in Europe which continued for hundreds of years, and lasted through the 17th century and beyond. Such beliefs were also common in various other countries, particularly some sections of Africa, where the presence of disease to this day is often linked to accusations of witchcraft and demon worship or possession.
Aside from the hundreds of thousands of people that lost their lives during the Bubonic Plague, the disease had a dramatic social impact on the societies that it touched. In Europe, the plague affected all segments of society, including church and political leaders. People began to lose all hope. Christianity, which had been such and important part of the Middle Ages, had seriously lost its appeal and power. The result of the loss of influence of the church eventually would lead Europe to the Age of Reason and the Renaissance.
This plague also had the effect of weakening the feudal system because manor lords, knights, and even monarchs perished from sickness. The loss of thousands of serfs also created a serious labor shortage in Europe. This allowed the serfs that survived to exercise greater autonomy and demand higher wages. Serfs were no longer tied to one manor and could move for better work. The labor shortage ultimately resulted in lower supplies which caused the price of goods to increase. The increase in prices and wages led to inflation and dramatic fluctuations in the cost of living.
The plague had disastrous consequences in Asia and Africa as well. It is estimated that over three hundred tribes were completely wiped out in Egypt, disrupting food production and supply. It should also be noted that recent research suggests the plague may have originated in Ancient Egypt. In China, millions of peasants died from the disease. It contributed to the fall of the mighty Mongol Empire. Thirty percent of Persia's population perished and it was very slow to recover because of the political upheaval that was caused by the disruption of commerce and agriculture.