The Black Death: Bubonic Plague

The air choked with the stench of disease. The landscape, shriveled and fallow. A syrupy silence hangs over the land. It is 1348; the Black Death is here.

Scampering up a mooring rope and into a trade vessel, a harbor rat carries a deadly passenger, the Yersinia pestis. And in October of 1347, the ship, docked in Messina, carries the Black Death into Europe (“Black Death”). Swollen lymph nodes, mottled black skin, and infection are merciless; victims eat lunch with their friends, and dinner with their ancestors. Ships are found aimlessly floating in the Mediterranean, their crews dead. As a Florentine chronicler writes of victims, “others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta
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The most common, bubonic, had an 80% mortality rate. After feeding on an infected host, virulently replicating Yersinia pestis blocked a flea’s intestines. And when the flea bit a human, it regurgitated diseased blood into the wound. Bubonic Plague gave victims high fevers, chills, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue (Boccaccio). Swollen lymph nodes, called “buboes” or “gavocciolos”, signaled infection and imminent death and within hours, they would blacken and burst, dripping pus and blood. Another common form of Plague was septicemic. Beginning with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, gradual blood infection created a 100% mortality rate (“Diseases and Conditions: Plague”). The final form was pneumatic. With a 95% mortality rate, this form developed when a person breathed in droplets of Yersinia pestis from an animal or person who had infection in the lungs. But no matter the form, the Plague was an indiscriminate killer, striking both nobles and …show more content…
Natural affection vanished. Friend deserted friend. Mothers left their children. Wages soared. Land value plummeted. Labor was nearly extinct. A lack of architects, masons, and artisans left cathedrals and castles unfinished for centuries. Governments floundered in attempts to create order out of chaos. Shock flooded Europe ("The Effects of The Black Death on the Economic and Social Life of Europe."). People would see their neighbors healthy one day, and dead the next. Many isolated themselves in their homes. Others embraced the apparent apocalypse, throwing frenzied bacchanals and orgies. Before the Plague, feudalism dominated Europe. Lords confined peasants, called serfs, to their estates. But with so many dead, serfs began to move around to other estates seeking better working and living conditions and higher pay (Courie). The societal order was reversed. Lords, desperate to keep their workers, offered free tools, housing, and seeds (Gunnell). Serf’s lives improved drastically. Because these changes gave more power to the poor, nobility attempted to draw a line between the classes. In 1349, King Edward III implemented a law that froze wages to pre-Plague levels, and although employers ignored this law, the gentry made other attempts to maintain medieval society. In 1363, England 's Parliament passed the "sumptuary laws" forbidding non-aristocrats from wearing certain clothing. Commoners

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