How did the Black Death bring about a crisis and recovery in Europe?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Black Death brought about a crisis in Europe because it killed such a huge number of people.  Because records for the time are so sketchy, we do not have an accurate figure for the number or percent of people who were killed.  However, if we say that around 50% of the population of Europe died because of the Black Death, we are probably not far off.

Imagine what a crisis this would be if it happened today.  If that many people died, our society would be devastated.  We would lose many of our leaders and teachers.  We would lose many people who own companies and create jobs.  We might lose large numbers of police and firefighters.  When half your population dies suddenly, all sorts of important people die and society is thrown into an uproar.  Now add to that the fact that Europeans of the time had no idea what was happening.  They did not understand why diseases happen or how they are spread.  From their point of view, people were dying terrible deaths at random with no discernable reason.  This eroded faith in the Church, which was a major institution in those times.  It also just caused people to be frightened, perhaps more than we can even comprehend.  In these ways, the Black Death caused a major crisis in Europe as it weakened society in many ways.

However, by killing so many people the Black Death brought about economic opportunity and economic change for those who survived.  Excess crops and food stores meant that food prices dropped and people could afford more food than they previously could.  Because so many workers of all sorts died, those who remained were much more valuable.  They could command higher wages.  They could force their employers to treat them better in order to keep them on as workers.  Many people who had been serfs and peasants left the countryside and moved to cities where they helped to drive economic growth.  In short, the Black Death created a situation where the workers had more power and could build better lives for themselves.  This helped drive an economic recovery in Europe and may have helped pave the way for modernization and further increases in prosperity.  In this way, the Black Death may have caused a crisis at first, but it (at least arguably) was good for society as a whole in the long run.

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