What was the Black Plague?
The Black Plague, or Black Death, swept over Europe, Middle East and Asia beginning in 1347, killing 25 million and 13 million in Europe and China respectively. In Europe, this represented between half and three-quarters of the population! The death rate was so high a steady decline in world population occurred for several years, as whole villages were wiped out and areas depopulated, since the disease struck equally among young and old. The disease was characterized as an infectious fever characterized by "buboes" or glandular swellings, from which the term "Bubonic" Plague originates. Current theory suggests the Plague was transmitted by a bacillus carried by rats, which resided in trading ships and moved from port to port. The first outbreak in Europe was in Genoa, the major trading port of its day, spreading throughout the continent in a few years.
Because of the high death rate, labor became scarce, wages for peasants increased, and their standard of living rose. The scarcity of labor allowed craftman's guilds to arise, which then fostered new innovation and business enterprises. Thus the most significant aspect of the Plague was that it severely rocked the medieval social structure, causing a dislocation and rise of labor guilds which created conditions for the Renaissance to emerge in Europe within 100 years.
The Black Death, the generalized name given to the plague-ridden period in Europe between the years of 1348-1350, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The pathogen responsible, a combination of the bubonic and pneumonic plague, is believed to have begun in China or central Asia.
A main stream of passage for the disease was probably through the expansion of the Ottoman Empire from Asia to Europe along trade routes such as the Silk Road. The pathogen most likely attached to the Mongol armies and traders on the routes and transferred to Oriental rat fleas living on black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships, which then led to the spread of the pathogen throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.
Furthermore, the people in Europe were particularly susceptible to the disease for a variety of reasons. Climate change leading to much colder winters than the Europeans were used to meant that plantation technology such as the heavy plough and the “three-field” system were not as effective, because the soil was much more clay-like. As a result, there were widespread food shortages and rapidly inflating prices made everyday life difficult and malnutrition ran rampant. This made people susceptible due to weakened immunity.
The spread of the disease was encouraged due to a lack of personal and general hygiene among cities and streets. The importance of personal hygiene was not realized until the 19th century.
The results of the Black Death were vast and widespread. Firstly, there was an upsurge of renewed religious fervor. The “mechanism of infection” of diseases was not common knowledge in the 1300’s. As a result, people turned to religious meaning and many people believed that only the anger of an all-powerful being could have caused it.
The plague also had a massive impact on the art and literature that came out of the generation that went through it. It was often more melancholy and depicted sorrowful scenes of death and destruction, even in poetry and other forms of writing.
In the long run, lots of Europeans lost their faith in any kind of religion during and after the Black Death. This was because they spent days praying for their god to remove them of the punishment they believed was the plague, and asked for forgiveness of sins they believed had caused it. In stark contrast to the times of Roman conquest, when Christianity spread to the poor with promise of reward for a good life, the people affected by plague heard no response and felt no passion, and saw no reason to continue. Hundreds of thousands of people went through this at the same time there was a religious upsurge. The effects rippled through Europe and religion was no longer the biggest focus of people’s lives. Instead of living for an afterlife, they began to live for “the now”, which was also reflected in the art of later periods, going into the 15th century.
The world-wide pandemic, known as the Black Plague, or the Black death was the worst humanitarian crisis that happened to the world. It started in Europe, around the 1940s-1950s and spread its influence towards SE Asia and also the Mediterranean continent. 3/4 of Europe's population was killed instantly, reducing global population by millions, for several years
Some scientists thought that the origin of these disease came from a bacterium that was later inflicted upon black rats that was residing as passengers on merchant ships, thus increasing the possibility of being affected by one. The disease was reportedly first introduced into Europe at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea in 1347, and later spread to other continents.
The effect of this pandemic was devastating. Due to the high death toll and the declining human population, labor workforce was getting scarce. Churches were also affected by caring for the victims.